LESSON 8 Death of little nell
She was dead. No sleep so beautiful and calm, so free from trace of pain, so fair to look upon. She seemed a creature fresh from the hand of God, and waiting for the breath of life; not one who had lived, and suffered death. Her couch was dressed with here and there some winter-berries and green leaves, gathered in a spot she had been used to favour. "When I die, put near me something that has loved the light, and had the sky above it always." These were her words.
She was dead. Dear, gentle, patient, noble Nell was dead. Her little bird—a poor, slight thing, the pressure of a finger would have crushed—was stirring nimbly in its cage; and the strong heart of its child-mistress was mute and motionless for ever! Where were the traces of her early cares, her sufferings and fatigues? All gone. Sorrow was dead, indeed, in her; but peace and perfect happiness were born—imaged in her tranquil beauty and profound repose.
And still her former self lay there, unaltered in this change. Yes, the old fireside had smiled upon that same sweet face; it had passed like a dream through haunts of misery and care—at the door of the poor schoolmaster on the summer evening,(1) before the furnace fire(2) upon the cold wet night, at the still bedside of the dying boy,(3) there had been the same mild and lovely look. So shall we know the angels in their majesty after death.
The old man(4) held one languid arm in his, and the small tight hand folded to his breast for warmth. It was the hand she had stretched out to him with her last smile—the hand that had led him on through all their wanderings. Ever and anon he pressed it to his lips, then hugged it to his breast again, murmuring that it was warmer now; and as he said it he looked in agony to those who stood around, as if imploring them to help her.
She was dead, and past all help or need of help. The ancient rooms she had seemed to fill with life even while her own was waning fast the garden she had tended, the eyes she had gladdened the noiseless haunts of many a thoughtful hour, the paths she had trodden as it were but yesterday, could know her no more. "It is not," said the schoolmaster,(5) as he bent down to kiss her on the cheek, and gave his tears free vent—"it is not in this world that Heaven's justice ends. Think what it is, compared with the world to which her young spirit has winged its early flight, and say, if one deliberate wish, expressed in solemn tones above this bed, could call her back to life, which of us would utter it?"
She had been dead two days. They were all about her at the time, knowing that the end was drawing on. She died soon after daybreak. They had read and talked to her in the earlier portion of the night; but as the hours crept on she sank to sleep. They could tell, by what she faintly uttered in her dreams, that they were of her wanderings with the old man. They were of no painful scenes, but of those who had helped them and used them kindly; for she often said, "God bless you!" with great fervour. Waking, she never wandered in her mind but once, and that was at beautiful music which, she said, was in the air. God knows. It may have been.
她已经死了两天了。那个时刻，人们都环绕着她，都已了解她的生命的大幕即将落下。破晓时分，她便真的去了。前半夜，人们还在念书给她听，还在与她交谈；但是，慢慢的，她就陷入了沉睡之中。借助于她在梦中模糊的 呓语，他们还能分辨出，她说的是自己和老人家一起长途跋涉的事。记忆中并没有痛苦的画面， 只有那些曾经帮助过他们并友善的对待过他们的人；因为她经常热情的说：“上帝保佑你！”醒来时，她的神智一直很清醒，唯有一次，她说自己在美妙的音乐声中飘上了天。只有上帝知道怎么回事，或许是真的。
Opening her eyes at last from a very quiet sleep, she begged that they would kiss her once again. That done, she turned to the old man, with a lovely smile upon her face—such, they said, as they had never seen, and never could forget—and clung with both her arms about his neck. She had never murmured or complained, but with a quiet mind, and manner quite unaltered—save that she every day became more earnest, and more grateful to them—faded like the light upon the summer's evening.
The child(6) who had been her little friend came there almost as soon as it was day with an offering of dried flowers, which he begged them to lay upon her breast. He told them of his dream again, and that it was of her being restored to them, just as she used to be. He begged hard to see her, saying that he would be very quiet, and that they need not fear his being alarmed, for he had sat alone by his younger brother all day long when he was dead, and had felt glad to be so near him. They let him have his wish; and indeed he kept his word, and was in his childish way a lesson to them all.
Up to that time the old man had not spoken once—except to her—or stirred from the bedside. But when he saw her little favourite, he was moved as they had not seen him yet, and made as though he would have him come nearer. Then, pointing to the bed, he burst into tears for the first time; and they who stood by, knowing that the sight of this child had done him good, left them alone together.
Soothing him with his artless talk of her, the child persuaded him to take some rest, to walk abroad—to do almost as he desired him. And when the day came on which they must remove her in her earthly shape from earthly eyes for ever, he led him away, that he might not know when she was taken from him. They were to gather fresh leaves and berries for her bed.
And now the bell—the bell she had so often heard by night and day, and listened to with solemn pleasure, almost as to a living voice—rung its remorseless toll for her, so young, so beautiful, so good. Decrepit(7) age, and vigorous life, and blooming youth, and helpless infancy, poured forth—on crutches, in the pride of health and strength, in the full blush of promise, in the mere dawn of life—to gather round her tomb. Old men were there, whose eyes were dim and senses failing—grandmothers, who might have died ten years ago and still been old—the deaf, the blind, the, lame, the palsied—the living dead, in many shapes and forms, to see the closing of that early grave.
Along the crowded path they bore her now—pure as the newly fallen snow that covered it, whose day on earth had been as fleeting. Under that porch where she had sat when Heaven, in its mercy, brought her to that peaceful spot, she passed again; and the old church received her in its quiet shade. They carried her to one old nook, where she had many and many a time sat musing, and laid their burden softly on the pavement. The light streamed on it through the coloured window—a window where the boughs of trees were ever rustling in the summer, and where the birds sang sweetly all day long. With every breath of air that stirred among those branches in the sunshine, some trembling, changing light would fall upon her grave.
"Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust." Many a young hand dropped in its little wreath—many a stifled sob was heard. Some, and they were not a few, knelt down. All were sincere and truthful in their sorrow. The service done, the mourners stood apart, and the villagers closed round to look into the grave before the stone should be replaced.
One called to mind how he had seen her sitting on that very spot, and how her book had fallen on her lap, and she was gazing with a pensive face upon the sky. Another told how he had wondered much that one so delicate as she should be so bold; how she had never feared to enter the church alone at night, but had loved to linger there when all was quiet, and even to climb the tower-stair, with no more light than that of the moon rays stealing through the loop-holes in the thick old walls. A whisper went about among the oldest there that she had seen and talked with angels; and when they called to mind how she had looked and spoken, and her early death, some thought it might be so indeed.
Thus, coming to the grave in little knots, and glancing down, and giving place to others, and falling off in whispering groups of three or four, the church was cleared in time of all but the sexton and the mourning friends. Then, when the dusk of evening had come on, and not a sound disturbed the sacred stillness of the place—when the bright moon poured in her light on tomb and monument, on pillar, wall, and arch, and most of all, it seemed to them, upon her quiet grave—in that calm time, when all outward things and inward thoughts teem with assurances or immortality, and worldly hopes and fears are humbled in the dust before them, then with tranquil and submissive hearts they turned away, and left the child with God.