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lingerings of decent pride were visible in her appearance, Her dress, though humble in the extreme, was scrupulously clean. Some trivial respect, too, had been awarded her, for she did not take her seat among the village poor, but sat alone on the steps of the altar. She seemed to have survived all love, all friendship, all society; and to have nothing left her but the hopes of heaven. When I saw her feebly rising and bending her aged form in prayer-habitually conning her prayer book, which her palsied hand and failing eyes would not permit her to read, but which she evidently knew by heart-I felt persuaded that the faultering voice of that poor woman arose to heaven far before the responses of the clerk, the swell of the organ, or the chanting of the choir,
I am fond of loitering about country churches, and this was so delightfully situated, that it frequently attracted me. It stood on a knoll, round which a small stream made a beautiful bend, and then wound its way through a long reach of soft meadow scenery. The church was surrounded by yew trees which seemed almost coeval with itself. Its tall Gothic spire shot up lightly from among them, with rooks and crows generally wheeling about it. I was seated there one still sunny morning, watching two labourers who were digging a grave. They had chosen one of the most remote and neglected corners of the church-yard; where, from the number of nameless graves around, it would appear that the indigent and friendless were huddled into the earth. I was told that the new made grave was for the only son of a poor widow. While I was meditating on the distinctions of worldly rank, which extend thus down into the very dust, the toll of the bell announced the approach of the funeral. They were the obsequies of poverty, with which pride had nothing to do. A coffin of the plainest materials, without pall or other covering, was borne by some of the villagers. The sexton walked before with an air of cold indifference. There were no mock mourners in the trappings of affected wo; but there was one real mourner who feebly tottered after the corpse. It was the aged mother of the deceased—the poor old woman whom I had seen seated on the steps of the altar. She was supported by a humble friend, who was endeavouring to comfort her. A few of the neighbouring poor had joined the train, and some children of the village were running hand in hand, now shouting with unthinking mirth, and now pausing to gaze with childish curiosity, on the grief of the mourner.
As the funeral train approached the grave, the parson issued from the church porch, arrayed in the surplice, with prayer-book in hand, and attended by the clerk. The service however, was a mere act of charity. The deceased had been destitute, and the surviver was pennyless. It was shuffled through, therefore, in form, but coldly and unfeelingly. The well fed priest moved but a few steps from the church door; his voice could scarcely be heard at the grave; and never did I hear the funeral service, that sublime and touching ceremony, turned into such a frigid mummery of
words. I approached the grave. The coffin was placed on the ground. On it were inscribed the name and age of the deceased“George Sommers, aged 26 years. The poor mother had been assisted to kneel down at the head of it. Her withered hands were clasped, as if in prayer, but I could perceive, by a feeble rocking of the body, and a convulsive motion of the lips, that she was gazing on the last relics of her son, with the yearnings of a mother's lieart.
Preparations were made to deposite the coffin into the carth. There was that bustling stir which breaks so harshly on the feelings of grief and affection; directions given in the cold tones of business: the striking of spades into sand and gravel; which, at the grave of those we love, is, of all sounds, the most withering. The bustle around seemed to awaken the mother from a wretched reverie. She raised her glazed eyes, and looked about with a faint wildness. As the men approached with cords to lower the coffin into the grave, she wrung her hands and broke into an agony of grief. The poor woman who attended her took her by the arm, endeavouring to raise her from the earth, and to whisper something like consolation—"Nay, now-nay, now-don't take it So sorely to heart.” She could only shake her head and wring her hands, as one not to be comforted.
As they lowered the body into the earth, the creaking of the cords seemed to agonize her; but when, on some accidental obstruction, there was a jostling of the coffin, all the tenderness of the mother burst forth; as if any harm could come to him who was far beyond the reach of worldly suffering.
I could see no more—my heart swelled into my throat
-my eyes filled with tears, I felt as if I were acting a barbarous part in standing by and gazing idly on this scene of maternal anguish. I wandered to another part of the church-yard, where I remained until the funeral train had dispersed.
When I saw the mother slowly and painfully quitting the grave, leaving behind her the remains of all that was dear to her on earth, and returning to silence and destitution, my heart ached for her. What, thought I, are the distresses of the rich! they have friends to soothe-pleasures to beguilema world to divert and dissipate their griefs. What are the sorrows of the young Their growing minds soon close above the wound-their elastic spirits soon rise above the pressure their green and ductile affections soon twine round new objects. But the sorrows of the poor, who have no outward appliances to soothe--the sorrows of the aged, with whom life at best is but a wintry day, and who can look for no aftergrowth of joy-the sorrows of a widow, aged, solitary, destitute, mourning over an only son, the last solace of her years; these are indeed sorrows which make us feel the impotency of consolation.
It was some time before I left the church-yard. On my way homeward I met with the woman who had acted as comforter : she was just returning from accompanying the mother to her lonely
habitation, and I drew from her some particulars connected with the affecting scene I had witnessed.
The parents of the deceased had resided in the village from childhood. They had inhabited one of the neatest cottages, and by various rural occupations, and the assistance of a small garden, bad supported themselves creditably and comfortably, and led a happy and a blameless life. They had only one son, who had grown up to be the staff and pride of their age.--"Oh, Sir!" said the good woman, "he was such a comely lad, so sweet-tempered, so kind to every one around him, so dutiful to his parents! It did one's heart goud, to see him of a Sunday, dressed out in his best, so tall
, so straight, so cheery, supporting his old mother to church—for she was always fonder of leaning on George's arm, than on her good man's; and, poor soul, she might well be proud of him, for a finer lad there was not in the country round.”
Unfortunately the son was tempted, during a year of scarcity and agricultural hardship to enter into the service of one of the small craft that plied on a neighbouring river. He had not been long in this employ when he was entrapped by a press-gang, and carried off to sea. His parents received tidings of his seizure, but beyond that they could learn nothing. It was the loss of their main prop. The father, who was already infirm, grew heartless and melancholy, and sunk into his grave. The widow, left lonely, in her age and feebleness, could no longer support herself
, and came upon the parish. Still there was a kind of feeling toward her throughout the village, and a certain respect as being one of the oldest inhabitants. As no one applied for the cottage, in which she had passed so many happy days, she was permitted to remain in it, where she lived solitary and almost helpless. The few wants of nature were chiefly supplied, from the scanty productions of her little garden, which the neighbours would now and then cultivate for her,
It was but a few days before the time at which these circumstances were told me, that she was gathering some vegetables for a repast, when she heard the cottage door which faced the garden suddenly open. A stranger came out, and seemed to be looking eagerly and wildly around, He was dressed in seamen's clothes, was emaciated and ghastly pale, and bore the air of one broken by sickness and hardships. He saw her, and hastened towards her, but his steps were faint and faltering; he sank on his knees before her, and sobbed like a child. The poor woman gazed upon him with a vacant and wandering eye“Oh my dear, dear mother! don't you know your son ? your poor boy George ?" It was indeed the wreck of her once noble lad; who, shattered by wounds, by sickness and foreign imprisonment, had, at length, dragged his wasted limbs homeward, to repose among the scenes of his childhood.
I will not attempt to detail the particulars of such a meeting, where joy and sorrow were so completely blended: still he was alive! he was come home! he might yet live to comfort and cherish her old age! Nature, however, was exhausted in him; and if any thing had been wanting to finish the work of fate, the desolation of his native cottage would have been sufficient. He stretched himself on the pallet on which his widowed mother had passed many a sleepless night, and never rose from it again. The villagers when they heard that George Sommers
had returned, crowded to see him, offering every comfort and assistance that their humble means afforded. He was too weak, however, to talk-he could only look his thanks. His mother was his constant attendant ; and he seemed unwilling to be helped by any other hand.
There is something in sickness, that breaks down the pride of manhood ; that softens the heart, and brings it back to the feelings of infancy. Who that has languished, even in advanced life, in sickness and despondency ; who that has pined on a weary bed in the neglect and loneliness of a foreign land; but has thought on the mother "that looked on his childhood," that smoothed his pillow and administered to his helplessness ? Oh! there is an enduring tenderness in the love of a mother to a son that transcends all other affections of the heart. It is neither to be chilled by selfishness, nor daunted by danger, nor weakened by worthlessness, nor stifled by ingratitude. She will sacrifice every comfort to his convenience; she will surrender every pleasure to his enjoyment; she will glory in his fame, and exult in his prosperity : and, if misfortune overtake him, he will be the dearer to her from his misfortunes; and if disgrace settle upon his name, she will still love and cherish him in spite of his disgrace ; and if all the world beside cast him off, she will be all the world to him.
Poor George Sommers had known what it was to be in sickness and none to soothe-lonely and in prison, and none to visit him. He could not endure his mother from his sight; if she moved away, his eye would follow her. She would sit for hours by his bed, watching him as he slept. Sometimes he would start from a feverish dream, and look anxiously up until he saw her bending over him; when he would take her hand, lay it on his bosom, and fall asleep with the tranquillity of a child. In this
My first impulse on hearing this humble tale of affiction, was to visit the cottage of the mourner, and administer pecuniary assistance, and, if possible, comfort. I found, however, on inquiry, that the good feelings of the villagers had prompted them to do every thing that the case admitted ; and as the poor know best how to console each other's sorrows, I did not venture to intrude.
The next Sunday I was at the village church; when, to my surprize, I saw the poor old woman tottering down the aisle to her accustomed seat on the steps of the altar.
way he died.