The House by the Churchyard

by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

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Chapter LXXIX



As time wore on, little Lilias was not better. When she had read her Bible, and closed it, she would sit long silent, with a sad look, thinking; and often she would ask old Sally questions about her mother, and listen to her, looking all the time with a strange and earnest gaze through the glass door upon the evergreens and the early snowdrops. And old Sally was troubled somehow, and saddened at her dwelling so much upon this theme.

And one evening, as they sat together in the drawing-room—she and the good old rector—she asked him, too, gently, about her; for he never shrank from talking of the beloved dead, but used to speak of her often, with a simple tenderness, as if she were still living.

In this he was right. Why should we be afraid to speak of those of whom we think so continually? She is not dead, but sleepeth! I have met a few, and they very good men, who spoke of their beloved dead with this cheery affection, and mingled their pleasant and loving remembrances of them in their common talk; and often I wished that, when I am laid up in the bosom of our common mother earth, those who loved me would keep my memory thus socially alive, and allow my name, when I shall answer to it no more, to mingle still in their affectionate and merry intercourse.

'Some conflicts my darling had the day before her departure,' he said; 'but such as through God's goodness lasted not long, and ended in the comfort that continued to her end, which was so quiet and so peaceable, we who were nearest about her, knew not the moment of her departure. And little Lily was then but an infant—a tiny little thing. Ah! if my darling had been spared to see her grown-up, such a beauty, and so like her!'

And so he rambled on; and when he looked at her, little Lily was weeping; and as he looked she said, trying to smile—

'Indeed, I don't know why I'm crying, darling. There's nothing the matter with your little Lily—only I can't help crying: and I'm your foolish little Lily, you know.'

And this often happened, that he found she was weeping when he looked on her suddenly, and she used to try to smile, and both, then, to cry together, and neither say what they feared, only each unspeakably more tender and loving. Ah, yes! in their love was mingling now something of the yearning of a farewell, which neither would acknowledge.

'Now, while they lay here,' says sweet John Bunyan, in his 'Pilgrim's Progress,' 'and waited for the good hour, there was a noise in the town that there was a post come from the celestial city, with matter of great importance to one Christiana. So enquiry was made for her, and the house was found out where she was; so the post presented her with a letter, the contents whereof were, "Hail, thou good one! I bring thee tidings that the Master calleth for thee, and expecteth that thou shouldst stand in his presence, in clothes of immortality, within these ten days."'

'When he had read this letter to her, he gave her therewith a sure token that he was a true messenger, and was come to bid her make haste to be gone. The token was an arrow with a point sharpened with love, let easily into her heart, which by degrees wrought so effectually with her, that at the time appointed she must be gone.

'When Christiana saw that her time was come, and that she was the first of this company that was to go over, she called for Mr. Greatheart, her guide, and told him how matters were.'

And so little Lily talked with Mr. Greatheart in her own way; and hearing of her mother, gave ear to the story as to a sweet and solemn parable, that lighted her dark steps. And the old man went on:—

'It is St. John who says, "And the sea arose by reason of a great wind that blew. So when they had rowed about five-and-twenty, or thirty furlongs, they see the Lord walking on the sea, and drawing nigh unto the ship: and they were afraid. But he saith unto them, It is I, be not afraid." So is it with the frail bark of mortality and the trembling spirit it carries. When "it is now dark," and the sea arises, and the "great wind" blows, the vessel is tost, and the poor heart fails within it; and when they see the dim form which they take to be the angel of death walking the roaming waters, they cry out in terror, but the voice of the sweet Redeemer, the Lord of Life is heard, "It is I; be not afraid," and so the faithful ones "willingly receive him into the ship," and immediately it is at the land whither they go: yes, at the land whither they go. But, oh! the lonely ones, left behind on the other shore.'

One morning, old Sally, who, in her quiet way, used to tell all the little village news she heard, thinking to make her young mistress smile, or at least listen, said—

'And that wild young gentleman, Captain Devereux, is growing godly, they say; Mrs. Irons tells me how he calls for his Bible o' nights, and how he does not play cards, nor eat suppers at the Phoenix, nor keep bad company, nor go into Dublin, but goes to church; and she says she does not know what to make of him.'

Little Lily did not speak or raise her head; she went on stirring the little locket, that lay on the table, with the tip of her finger, looking on it silently. She did not seem to mind old Sally's talk, almost to hear it, but when it ended, she waited, still silent, as a child, when the music is over, listens for more.

When she came down she placed her chair near the window, that she might see the snowdrops and the crocuses.

'The spring, at last, Sally, my darling, and I feel so much better;' and Lily smiled on the flowers through the windows, and I fancy the flowers opened in that beautiful light.

And she said, every now and then, that she felt 'so much better—so much stronger,' and made old Sally sit by her, and talk to her, and smiled so happily, and there again were all her droll engaging little ways. And when the good rector came in, that evening, she welcomed him in the old pleasant way: though she could not run out, as in other times, when she heard his foot on the steps, to meet him at the door, and there was such a beautiful colour in her clear, thin cheeks, and she sang his favourite little song for him, just one verse, with the clear, rich voice he loved so well, and then tired. The voice remained in his ears long after, and often came again, and that little song, in lonely reveries, while he sat listening, in long silence, and twilight, a swan's song.

'You see, your little Lily is growing quite well again. I feel so much better.'

There was such a childish sunshine in her smile, his trembling heart believed it.

'Oh! little Lily, my darling!' he stopped—he was crying, and yet delighted. Smiling all the time, and crying, and through it a little laugh, as if he had waked from a dream of having lost her, and found her there—his treasure—safe. 'If anything happened to little Lily, I think the poor old man'—and the sentence was not finished; and, after a little pause, he said, quite cheerily—'But I knew the spring would bring her back. I knew it, and here she is; the light of the house; little Lily, my treasure.'

And so he blessed and kissed her, and blessed her again, with all his fervent soul, laying his old hand lightly on her fair young head; and when she went up for the night, with gentle old Sally, and he heard her room door shut, he closed his own, and kneeling down, with clasped hands and streaming eyes, in a rapture of gratitude, he poured forth his thanksgivings before the Throne of all Mercies.

These outpourings of gratitude, all premature, for blessings not real but imagined, are not vain. They are not thrown away upon that glorious and marvellous God who draws near to all who will draw near to Him, reciprocates every emotion of our love with a tenderness literally parental, and is delighted with his creatures' appreciation of his affection and his trustworthiness; who knows whereof we are made, and remembers that we are but dust, and is our faithful Creator. Therefore, friend, though thou fearest a shadow, thy prayer is not wasted; though thou rejoicest in an illusion, thy thanksgiving is not in vain. They are the expressions of thy faith recorded in Heaven, and counted—oh! marvellous love and compassion!—to thee for righteousness.

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