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    In Portchester Churchyard

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    Chapter 24
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    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.
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