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Title: The Child Who Loved a Grave
Author: Fitz-James O'Brien
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0603241.txt
Edition: 1
Language: English
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Date first posted: July 2006
Date most recently updated: July 2006

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Title: The Child Who Loved a Grave
Author: Fitz-James O'Brien

Far away in the deep heart of a lonely country there was an old
solitary churchyard. People were no longer buried there, for it had
fulfilled its mission long, long ago, and its rank grass now fed a few
vagrant goats that clambered over its ruined wall and roamed through
the sad wilderness of graves. It was bordered all round with willows
and gloomy cypresses; and the rusty iron gate, seldom if ever opened,
shrieked when the wind stirred it on its hinges as if some lost soul,
condemned to wander in that desolate place forever, was shaking its
bars and wailing at the terrible imprisonment.

In this churchyard there was one grave unlike all the rest. The stone
which stood at the head bore no name, but instead the curious device,
rudely sculptured of a sun uprising out of the sea.

The grave was very small and covered with a thick growth of dock and
nettle, and one might tell by its size that it was that of a little

Not far from the old churchyard a young boy lived with his parents in
a dreary cottage; he was a dreamy, dark-eyed boy, who never played
with the children of the neighbourhood, but loved to wander in the
fields and lie by the banks of rivers, watching the leaves fall and
the waters ripple, and the lilies sway their white heads on the bosom
of the current. It was no wonder that his life was solitary and sad,
for his parents were wild, wicked people who drank and quarrelled all
day and all night, and the noises of their quarrels where heard in
calm summer nights by the neighbours that lived in the village under
the brow of the hill.

They boy was terrified at all this hideous strife, and his young soul
shrank within him when he heard the oaths and the blows echoing
through the dreary cottage, so he used to fly out into the fields
where everything looked so calm and pure, and talk with the lilies in
a low voice as if they were his friends.

In this way he came to haunt the old churchyard, roaming through its
half-buried headstones, and spelling out upon them the names of people
that had gone from earth years and years ago.

The little grave, nameless and neglected, however, attracted him more
than all others. The strange device of the sun uprising out of the sea
was to him a perpetual source of mystery and wonder; and so, whether
by day or night, when the fury of his parents drove him from his home,
he used to wander there and lie amidst the thick grass and think who
was buried beneath it.

In time his love for the little grave grew so great that he adorned it
after his childish fashion.

He cleared away the docks and the nettles and the mulleins that grew
so sombrely above it, and clipped the grass until it grew thick and
soft as the carpet of heaven. Then he brought primroses from the green
banks of dewy lanes where the hawthorn rained its white flowers, and
red poppies from the cornfields, and bluebells from the shadowy heart
of the forest, and planted them around the grave. With the supple
twigs of the silver osier he hedged it round with a little simple
fence, and scraped the creeping mosses from the grey head-stone until
the little grave looked as if it might have been the grave of a good

Then he was content. All the long summer days he would lie upon it
with his arms clasping its swelling mound, while the soft wind with
wavering will would come and play about him and timidly lift his hair.
From the hillside he heard the shouts of the village boys at play, and
sometimes one of them would come and ask him to join in their sports;
but he would look at him with his calm, dark eyes and gently answer
no; and the boy, awed and hushed, would steal back to his companions
and speak in whispers about the child that loved a grave.

In truth, he loved the little graveyard better than all play. The
stillness of the churchyard, the scent of the wild flowers, the golden
chequers of the sunlight falling through the trees and playing over
the grass were all delights to him. He would lie on his back for hours
gazing up at the summer sky and watching the white clouds sailing
across it, and wondering if they were the souls of good people sailing
home to heaven. But when the black thunder-clouds came up bulging with
passionate tears, and bursting with sound and fire, he would think of
his bad parents at home, and, turning to the grave, lay his little
cheek against it as if it were a brother.

So the summer went passing into autumn. The trees grew sad and
shivered as the time approached when the fierce wind would strip them
of their cloaks, and the rains and the storms buffet their naked
limbs. The primroses grew pale and withered, but in their last moments
seemed to look up at the child smilingly, as if to say, 'Do not weep
for us. We will come again next year.' But the sadness of the season
came over him as the winter approached, and he often wet the little
grave with his tears, and kissed the grey head-stone, as one kisses a
friend that is to depart for years.

One evening towards the close of autumn, when the woods looked brown
and grim, and the wind as it came over the hills had a fierce, wicked
growl, the child heard, as he was sitting by the grave, the shriek of
the old gate swinging upon its rusty hinges, and looking up he saw a
strange procession enter. There were five men. Two bore between them
what seemed to be a long box covered with black cloth, two more
carried spades in their hands, while the fifth, a tall stern-faced man
clad in a long cloak, walked at their head. As the child saw these men
pass to and fro through the graveyard, stumbling over half-buried
head-stones, or stooping down and examining half-effaced inscriptions,
his little heart almost ceased to beat, and he shrank behind the grey
stone with the strange device in mortal terror.

The men walked to and fro, with the tall one at their head, searching
steadily in the long grass, and occasionally pausing to consult. At
last the leader turned and walked towards the little grave, and
stooping down gazed at the grey stone. The moon had just risen, and
its light fell on the quaint sculpture of the sun rising out of the
sea. The tall man then beckoned to his companions.

'I have found it,' he said, 'it is here.' With that the four men came
along, and all five of them stood by the grave. The child behind the
stone could no longer breathe.

The two men bearing the long box laid it down in the grass, and taking
off the black cloth, the child saw a little coffin of shining ebony
covered with silver ornaments, and on the lid, wrought in silver, was
the device of a sun uprising out of the sea, and the moon shone over

'Now to work!' said the tall man; and straightaway the two that held
the spades plunged them into the little grave. The child thought his
heart would break; and, no longer able to restrain himself, he flung
his body across the mound, and cried out to the strange leader.

'Oh, Sir!' he cried, sobbing, 'do not touch my little grave! It is all
I have to love in the world.

Do not touch it; for all day long I lie here with my arms about it,
and it seems like my brother. I tend it, and keep the grass short and
thick, and I promise you, if you will leave it to me, that next year I
will plant about it the finest flowers in the meadows.'

'Tush, child, you are a fool!' answered the stern-faced man. 'This is
a sacred duty that I have to perform. He who is buried here was a
child like you; but he was of royal blood, and his ancestors dwelt in
palaces. It is not meet that bones like his should rest in common
soil. Across the sea a grand mausoleum awaits them, and I have come to
take them with me and lay them in vaults of porphyry and marble. Take
him away, men, and to your work.'.So the men dragged the child from
the grave by main force, and laid him nearby in the grass, sobbing as
if his heart would break; and then they dug up the grave. Through his
tears he saw the small white bones gathered up and put in the ebony
coffin, and heard the lid shut down, and saw the men shovel back the
earth into the empty grave, and he felt as if they were robbers. Then
they took up the coffin and retraced their steps. The gate shrieked
once more on its hinges, and the child was alone.

He returned home silent, and tearless, and white as any ghost. When he
went to his little bed he called his father, and told him he was going
to die, and asked him to have him buried in the little grave that had
a grey head-stone with a sun rising out of the sea carved upon it The
father laughed, and told him to go to sleep; but when morning came the
child was dead!

They buried him where he wished; and when the sod was patted smooth,
and the funeral procession departed, that night a new star came out in
heaven and watched above the grave.


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