University of Virginia Library




“Affection warm, and faith sincere,
And soft humanity were there.”

It was just at the close of day, a soft, showery April day,
that the body which had invested Letty's sweet spirit was
let softly down into its mother earth. The sun sent its
slanting beams athwart the turf, jeweled by the shower, and
checkered by the shadows of an old oak that spread its
arms, as if in benediction, over the space allotted in the village
church-yard to the Lisle family.

The friends that had gathered to assist in the last reverential
office had dispersed. Archibald alone lingered, leaning
against a marble slab which marked his father's grave,
and near which Letty was placed.

We said he was alone; but not far from him stood the
village sexton, leaning on his spade. The old man's few
white hairs, curiously husbanded and braided, lay in a single
lock on his forehead, making him look like the fit chief craftsman
of “Time in the primmer.” “Uncle Phil” was the
most venerated official of the village—his dynasty had been
the longest. He had buried two generations, and turned
into the dust some sweet blossoms of the third. Uncle
Phil's hands were thus hallowed. Besides, in his private
life, he was a single, kindly, true-hearted man, with a quaint
humor that pleased the old, and drew the children to his
knee. A touch of human vanity he had, but it ran in the


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professional line, and thus interfered with no one, and offended
none. He was proud to be the ultimate authority in
all the traditions of the burying-place, which he seemed to
regard in some sort his private estate. He boasted that
there was not an error in the records of his memory; that
he could name each individual that mouldered in an unmarked
grave; that he could tell the day and the hour when
such and such a grave was dug; who had the longest procession;
who was buried in the pomp of “mahogany and
silver plate,” and who was laid down in humble “cherry.”
These, and other analogous ghastly particulars, were as familiar
as household words to Uncle Phil, but they never
clouded his serene mind. Life was pleasant to him from
sunrise to sunset—from the morning of youth, to the twilight
of old age.

Archibald was wiping the tears from his eyes, and turning
to depart, when an expressive “hem, hem,” from Uncle
Phil arrested him.

“Ah, Archy,” he said, hobbling forward as fast as age
and rheumatism would let him, and grasping the young
man's hand, “I declare I'm glad to see you, tho' it's a kind
o' solitary time with you. She was pretty”—in our rustic
phrase, the most comprehensive of commendations—“it
comes tough to me, Archy, to lay down such a young, kind
creature as Letty Alsop was; but I guess she's better off—
she was sort o' lonesome in this world.” Solitary, and lonesome,
in Uncle Phil's social vocabulary, stood for all modes
of wretchedness and uncomfortableness.

“Yes, Uncle Phil,” replied Archy, “she is far better off,
in every way;” and then, characteristically closing the door
on his own griefs, he added, “I am very glad to see you
able to be out after your great loss; I was very sorry to
hear of it, Uncle Phil.”

“I knew you would be, Archy. Gorry! 'twas hard. She


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was the only one we ever had. Her mother had not been
dead but little more 'n a year, and Livy and I had lived together
sixty years, three months, and seven days. She was
the peaceablest creter—lively as a cricket, too—and a master-hand
for work; no noise about it; and neat as a Shaker!
Sixty years we saw the sun rise and set together—never
apart one night in that time. Sixty years! It's a long day,
Archy; but 'twas pleasurant, I tell you.” The old man
paused, still leaning on his spade, and then went on to the
second chapter of his life: “But an only child is choice,
Archy—you was a speaking of Anny? Well, she 's gone,
too! We wa'n't neither of us none of the youngest when
Anny was born. She was all of thirty, and I was upwards.
Anny was a comfort all the way through; she was good—
she was, Archy; but after her mother died, I never see no
creter so lonesome as she was. It was `Mother! mother!'
all the time; and when the typhus fever set in, I couldn't
say a word—she was going to mother, and I could best bear
being left alone. My spirit is a kind o' rising one, you
know, Archy; but it was a hard stroke parting.” The poor
old man, with a nature all abhorrent of sadness as it was,
bit his lips, and fairly whimpered.

“It is very wretched, Uncle Phil, that you should be left

“Oh, gorry! Archy, I ain't alone; that is, Ned Finley's
family has moved in to t'other part of the house, and they 're
good company, 'specially their boy Jemmy. Says he to me
t'other day, when my rheumatis was at its height, and I
could not put on my shoes, says he, `Come, Uncle Phil,
come to dancing-school with me, and it will cure you.' He's
a bright one.” And the old man, who had glided into sunshine
as eagerly as a lizard does, laughed, and went on: “I
always liked boys, you know, Archy; you and I was always
friends, you remember?”


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“Oh, I can never forget it, Uncle Phil, how kind you always
were to me—the mammoth melon you gave me, and
my pleasant rides in your old wagon. Is old Whitey alive?”

“Whitey! Landsakes! Archy. Whitey died twenty
years ago, and he was upwards of twenty-two! I was not
thinking, Archy, of our little sprees in the old wagon, and
so forth, but of your ploughing; do you remember it?”
Uncle Phil proceeded to relate what he repeated circumstantially
at his semi-annual meetings with Archibald, for
he never went home without paying the old man a visit.
“You remember, don't you, Archy, when we raised that
noble bit of corn that took the premium—before you went
into larning? You was but a slip of a boy, but you was one
of them kind that succeeds. Gorry! there 's a difference in
boys, that 's a fact. When you took the ten dollars instead
of the silver cup, Deacon Shay's wife said `she thought it a
bad sign for a boy to be so greedy of cash.' I tell you,
Archy, I had my revenge when I went to settle with her for
burying the deacon. The old lady disputed my price—you
know the deacon was tall as Saul, and I had to dig extra
length. Well, I told her, twice over, how you would have
me take the ten dollars, 'case you would have it the yield
was owing to my ploughing—you remember?”

“You will not let me forget, Uncle Phil, though it is so
long past; even then you seemed to me an old man.”

“'Case you was a boy, Archy. Why, it ain't much over
twenty years, and I was not much past sixty then—but old
age has come on me like a snow-storm since she and Anny

“Still, I see you are able to keep up your old business?”

“Well, yes, with some help. Since railroads came in,
Archy, people are running wild with notions. They must
carry new fashions into grave-yards, and turn 'em into cimetaries,
and there 's a sight to do! But come here, Archy,


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and see where I laid my folks.” Archibald followed him.
“There,” he continued, after a slight pause, “there they lie
together, side by side, as close as we could put them. I
always meant to lie by her, but Anny went first, and I gave
up to her. I knew she 'd want to lie close to `mother'—so
she'll lie between us. Now, isn't that sleek, Archy?” he
pointed to the smooth, rich turf over his wife and child. “I
spare no pains here,” and he stooped to pluck out the only
weed visible, “it's all I can do for them now; the ladies put
up this monument—it was kind of them, but I guess father's
work pleases them that lies under better—foolish, they
don't know nothing about it.” And our poor “Old Mortality”
dashed off the tears that seemed to sting him.

“Oh I think they do, Uncle Phil; not from `under,' as
you say, but I believe they are looking down upon you, lovingly,

“Gorry! do you, Archy? do you? Well, maybe they

Uncle Phil's garrulity did not tire Archy, to whom he was
much endeared by the pleasant memories of his boyhood,
but anxious lest the falling dew should harm his stiffened
joints, he told him so, and proposed they should go homeward.
“Oh, never fear, Archy. I never humor my rheumatis—there
's no use. I want you just to notice your plot.
You were too much cut down at the funeral. The trees you
planted thrive finely. I have my favorites below, as others
have above ground. You can pick them out by the look of
their graves; no nettles where your people lie, I can tell

They turned their footsteps towards the fresh grave, and
having examined the young trees which encircled the sacred
precincts of his family, and commended them, Archibald,
for the first time in his life, noticed a grave beside his
mother's, the turf of which was very slightly elevated above


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the surrounding level. It had a small brown head-stone.
“Whose grave is this, so close to my mother's, can you tell
me, Uncle Phil?” he said.

“Tell you, Archy? I guess I can,” replied the old man,
chuckling. “Why, since they've been modeling-over the
yard, I've 'dentified more than forty graves that had no
name on 'arth, but what's in my mind—there's not many
folks remembered long after they come under my spade. I
was puzzled myself sometimes, but then I'd call to mind the
shape of the coffin, the kind of wood, and sometimes, Archy,
the look of a mourner would come up fresh, and bring it all
back. But that little grave—landsakes, Archy! to think
you should not know about that.”

“I do not,” said Archibald, his feelings startled by the
old man's emphasis and by his face full of meaning.

“Why, Archy, that's Helen Dale's grave—your aunt.”

“Helen Dale! my aunt? I never heard the name before.
I never knew I had an aunt.”

“Why, you don't mean so, Archy!” and the old man bent
over his spade, and gazed at Archy in a sort of bewilderment.
After a moment's pause, he said, “Well, maybe it
is not so strange. Come to think, she must have died about
the time you were born—a little before, or may be a little
after; and your own mother, Archy, was—was—was—was
not like other folks. That is all I mean, Archy—no disrespect—for
she was a noble disposition of a woman, and your
mother besides; but she was the shut-uppest woman that
ever I came across. `Deeds, not words,' with her; but the
last comer, that is the present Mrs. Lisle, has made up for
it. Gorry! her tongue is set in the middle, and runs at both

“Still,” said Archibald, reflecting more than listening,
“I wonder my father never mentioned my aunt to me.”

“Well, he was rather of a still man too, Archy; and the


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last woman was so breezy, he could scarce hear his own
quiet voice. No; it's not strange, you was not over eight
when your own mother died, and Helen Dale was only your
aunt, and your mother pined inwardly; she was inclining to
stern too, your mother. But come, let's be going toward

“I do not remember,” said Archibald, following, after he
had given one last, loving, lingering look to the sods that
covered poor Letty, “I do not remember that my mother
was stern.”

“Well not to you, Archy, nor to Helen Dale. She was
more child than sister to your mother—ten or twelve years
between them; and Helen was the apple of her eye, the
meekest, mindingest little creter; she was pretty! Your
mother was married so long before you was born, that no
one mistrusted she would ever have a child, and Helen was
all in all to her. And your mother was ambitious, she knew
a'most every thing. She had been a teacher, you know, and
folks thought she over-teached Helen. She grew up as
white as a water-lily—a real beauty, and her eyes just a
pretty match for yours; she did not seem made out of common
clay, Archy, she did not. She went away that spring
before she died, to the sea-shore for her health. When she
first came home, she looked chirp, but she soon ran down,
and went as consumptive folks mostly do, at the fall of
the leaf. It was just after you were born, and your
mother would have the coffin brought up in her room where
she was lying, and you, a little black-looking fellow along
side of her. We placed the coffin across the table that
stood under the glass, so that the head came close to your
mother's pillow, and she raised up in the bed and told us to
put back the lid. Helen made the beautifullest corpse I ever
saw. She had long, light, shining hair, like your's, Archy,
when you was a boy; and 'twas parted off her forehead,


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and brought down each side on her shoulders, in a clump of
kind o' wavy curls. Your mother would not have a cap
put on her, nor a shroud on, but her own white dress with
a narrow ruffle, showing just the pretty modest part of her
neck; she looked like a child asleep; she was not much past
sixteen; her eyelids laid quiet down just as if she was
dreaming something pleasant, and her long eye-lashes soft
and black, seemed to stir when you looked at her. She was
a pictur to look at, I tell you, Archy.”

“But my mother, Uncle Phil?”

“Well, I was going to tell you. Your mother was a different
make from Helen: a tall, strong-build, but she was
dreadful took down. She did not seem to know what she
was about; she took you up in her arms and held you on
the pillow as if you could see into the coffin, and knew 'twas
your aunt, and so forth; your poor little head lopped one
side and t'other, and what did you take in? and then she
put you back and ris' up in bed, and laid her arms on the
coffin, and her head went quite down in, and I saw her neck
swelled as if it would burst, and the veins along her temples,
and not a word she spoke, nor a tear she shed; and I knew
all this was resky to a woman in her situation, and that she
had ought to live for the sake of her baby—that's you,
Archy; so says I, `Mis' Lisle, ma'am, this won't do,' and I
takes her by the shoulders, and lays her down, and she threw
the bed-clothes over her head, and I called help, and we
brought down the coffin and set it under the old elm-tree in
the yard, and they had the prayer there, and there was no
dry eyes, I tell you, Archy. I kind o' shuddered when I
laid the sods over her; so young—sixteen and seven months
—and so pretty, Archy,” concluded the old man, with a sigh.

Archy was infected by the sexton's vivid recollections; he,
too, shuddered. After a moment's silence he asked Uncle
Phil if he could tell him no more of his mother.


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“Well, not much, Archy. Before this time she'd been a
dreadful ambitious woman. Every thing of Mis' Lisle's was
better than the neighbors had, and all her make. But after
Helen died, she seemed to give up the world pretty much;
they said Mis' Lisle's butter and cheese wa'n't better than
other folks'. She seemed not to care much for any thing but
you; not but what she did her duty as a wife, but her heart
was half in Helen's grave, and t'other half you had.”

“I remember her,” said Archy, “as pale, and thin, and
sad, and it seems to me she was a long time ill.”

“A failing? yes, Archy, she was. The very last time she
was out, was the summer Deacon Shay died. She was at
the funeral; I obsarved she did not go out with the procession,
and I was sleecking off the deacon's grave. She beckoned
to me; she was a standing at Helen's head-stone.
Since Helen's burial a good many of your father's relations
had dropped off, and she was kind o' hedged in among 'em;
and so says your mother, says she, `Uncle Phil, you must
bury me under that oak-tree yonder, and mind when you do
it, that you take up my sister's coffin, and place her close
beside me, and move this head-stone.' `I shall do it, ma'am,'
says I; and I did it, Archy, no mistake. Your mother died,
and was buried that following September, and the next day
I moved Helen; and now comes something remarkable:
She'd lain eight years bating fifteen days, and she looked
just precisely as she did the day I put her down, not a hair
moved, not a shade changed, even the little white plaited
muslin ruffle round her neck laid just as pretty. I've seen
a great deal in our old grave-yard, but never the like o' that.”

They had now reached the gate that led to the sexton's
dwelling. “Well, good-by, Archy,” he said, returning the
cordial grasp of his young friend's hand. “I've had a pleasant
time with you, though it's a solitary business that
brings you here. One thing, Archy, no offence. I took


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kind o' comfort in putting Letty down a side of Helen;
young folks together, you know; it seems sort o' company
for them.”

“Uncle Phil!”

“Well, Archy, you can't, I see, enter into my sense of it,
but I have lived so much in the grave-yard, that all my
folks there that I have buried and seen to, and so on, seem
to me about as living as any body. Landsakes, Archy! it's
a kind of a confused world, after all!”

And so it seemed to Archibald, as he slowly retraced his
steps homeward, brooding on what he had heard from the
old sexton, so much, and yet so little of what he longed
to know of his mother. He had now reached the old
house on the hill-side, where Letty was first introduced to
our readers, no longer seeming the old house; but repaired,
repainted, and refurnished by the fruits of the New York
lawyer's hard work, it afforded to his father's widow and
her children, a most comfortable and happy home. And as
Archibald sat surrounded by his brothers, who had all come
home for the mournful occasion of the day, and saw them
bright with intelligence, and good, and affectionate—the
result of the combined necessities and opportunities of our
New England youth; the opportunities for the most part
supplied by Archibald—he felt that life, however checkered
by disappointments, has healthy excitements and sweet
consolations, so long as duty is its aim, and affection its

The tea was over, a tea more luxurious, but not attended
with less bustle or less clatter from his step-mother, than
that which preceded his father's death, when Mrs. Lisle's
domestic brought Archibald a letter, the writing covering
three and a half sides of a foolscap sheet.

“Poor Archy!” exclaimed one of the younger Lisles,
“there's Dr. Bay again! I wonder if he ever let you rest


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one day at home, without sending you one of his everlasting
letters, as long as Paul's epistle to the Romans. But what
is that paper inside, Archy?”

Archibald unfolded it: “A certificate of the date of my
birth; the careful doctor has always an eye to possible exigences.”
He refolded it, and the letter also, without even
glancing at that, and added, “It will keep till I have leisure
to read it. It probably concerns some ancient landmark, or
disputed boundary; we shall miss the doctor when he dies,
as much as we should the county records, if they were all
burned.” Lisle put the letter into his pocket, which, at no
distant date, was to be worth to him all the “county

The door-bell again rang, and another letter was brought
to Lisle. “See, boys,” said his mother, “what it is to be
a New York lawyer.”

The letter contained a telegraphic despatch, and in the
course of an hour Lisle was in the express mail train for New