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In Portchester Churchyard


To the historically and archaeologically minded the castle and walls at
Portchester are of great importance. Romans, Britons, Saxons, Normans--
they all made use of this well-defended place for long centuries, and
it still stands, much of it well preserved, to be explored and admired
by many thousands of visitors every year. What most interested me was
the sight of two small boys playing in the churchyard. The village
church, as at Silchester, is inside the old Roman walls, in a corner,
the village itself being some distance away. After strolling round the
churchyard I sat down on a stone under the walls and began watching the
two boys--little fellows of the cottage class from the village who had
come, each with a pair of scissors, to trim the turf on two adjoining
mounds. The bigger of the two, who was about ten years old, was very
diligent and did his work neatly, trimming the grass evenly and giving
the mound a nice smooth appearance. The other boy was not so much
absorbed in his work; he kept looking up and making jeering remarks and
faces at the other, and at intervals his busy companion put down his
shears and went for him with tremendous spirit. Then a chase among and
over the graves would begin; finally, they would close, struggle,
tumble over a mound and pommel one another with all their might. The
struggle over, they would get up, shake off the dust and straws, and go
back to their work. After a few minutes the youngest boy recovered from
his punishment, and, getting tired of the monotony, would begin teasing
again, and a fresh flight and battle would ensue.

By-and-by, after witnessing several of these fights, I went down and
sat on a mound next to theirs and entered into conversation with them.

"Whose grave are you trimming?" I asked the elder boy.

It was his sister's, he said, and when I asked him how long she had
been dead, he answered, "Twenty years." She had died more than ten
years before he was born. He said there had been eight of them born,
and he was the youngest of the lot; his eldest brother was married and
had children five or six years old. Only one of the eight had died--
this sister, when she was a little girl. Her name was Mary, and one day
every week his mother sent him to trim the mound. He did not remember
when it began--he must have been very small. He had to trim the grass,
and in summer to water it so as to keep it always smooth and fresh and
green.

Before he had finished his story the other little fellow, who was not
interested in it and was getting tired again, began in a low voice to
mock at his companion, repeating his words after him. Then my little
fellow, with a very serious, resolute air, put the scissors down, and
in a moment they were both up and away, doubling this way and that,
bounding over the mounds, like two young dogs at play, until, rolling
over together, they fought again in the grass. There I left them and
strolled away, thinking of the mother busy and cheerful in her cottage
over there in the village, but always with that image of the little
girl, dead these twenty years, in her heart.

W. H. Hudson