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Summary Chapter 54

The Bachelor takes a great interest in learning the history of the church, though he only focuses on good deeds and acknowledges the good or repentant people who are buried there. Some experts argue that a grave does not belong to a famous baron who pillaged many foreign countries—they believe the baron died abroad, during one of his battles. The Bachelor is convinced the grave does belong to the baron, who was penitent when he came home and gave to charity. He omits telling any of the grimmer parts of the church’s history or about any of the less than virtuous people buried there. This gives Nell the impression that evil has never touched the church.

The clergyman recovers from his illness, though he can’t do some of his duties. Nell spends time with him. She goes with him one day to observe a deaf man digging a grave for a woman that died in a neighboring hamlet. Nell asks the clergyman if he planted the flowers on the graves. He says no—those were planted by loved ones of the deceased. They are doomed to die, though, because eventually people forget the dead as the pain of their loss eases. They stop visiting the graves to tend to the flowers. He doesn’t consider this tragic, as it indicates the happiness of the living. Nell decides to plant flowers in the graveyard.

The clergyman and gravedigger argue about the age of the recently deceased woman. The gravedigger states she was their age. The clergyman doesn’t seem to want to believe this. He first believes she is younger, but then he thinks she lied about her age—and she was much older than they. By the time they resolve the argument, they both agree the woman had to be close to a hundred. They also both take comfort in the idea that the other has less years to his life.

Nell watches the gravedigger for a few minutes before walking away. She sees Mr. Marton, who is glad to see her outside in the sun. He wants her to be happy and not always spending time inside a gloomy church. Nell claims she is happy, only she is saddened by the fact that people who die are soon forgotten. Mr. Marton says that a neglected grave does not mean someone has been forgotten. The dead continue to be remembered in cherished memories.

The grandfather comes up to them and states she needs to rest. She isn’t like she once was. He tells her not to go away on her own—to allow him to be her companion. She tells him about her plan to plant flowers in the graveyard. The next morning, they both start working in the graveyard. The Bachelor observes and praises their work. He notices that she is concentrating on the graves of children. She says she will eventually do all the graves.

The grandfather becomes uneasy when The Bachelor mentions how Nell is obsessed with the graves of children. He keeps looking at her. When Nell asks him why, he denies any concern—and says she is getting better every day, and soon she will be a woman.

Charles Dickens