It was an unpropitious time for Ned to visit Doctor Neverasole. It was a little while after dinner, when the Doctor usually took his nap; but this day, the Doctor had not been able to sleep. Even the greatest of men are subject to infirmities of the flesh, and Dr. Neverasole had--we dislike to mention it--but he actually had--a boil on the end of his nose. It was the more provoking, that he would be obliged to appear in public, the next day, at the funeral. Many things had combined to fret the Doctor. He had received several letters from anxious parents and guardians, inquiring if diphtheria were actually prevailing in the school. And one anxious mother had ridden down from Dorchester, in the mud, to investigate, herself. Then too, he had not regarded Mrs. Neverasole's prudent advice, that in the disordered state of his blood, he should diet-and two glasses of ale, and a hearty dinner, had produced more than usual irritation, in the diseased and offending member.
Never of a very spiritual tone of mind, he was, at the moment when Ned knocked at the door, full of earthliness. The boy, full of his trouble, was not as particular, as otherwise, he would have been, in coming in the room. He wanted to relieve his overburdened soul, and was ready, metaphorically, to throw himself at the feet of the Doctor. . The Doctor had become metamorphosed, to him. He seemed like the Good Shepherd, of whom he had read once, in the Blessed Gospel.
His eyes were full of tears, and his voice husky with emotion, as he said, "Dr. Neverasole, may I speak to you, sir?"
The Doctor did not see the tears in the boy's eye; he did not comprehend the husky voice; the eager manner awoke no responsive echo in his fatherly bosom, and his nose was itching intolerably, so lie replied in a tone of ill-concealed irritation, "Yes, yes, what do you want? Please be quick, sir," he added, a little more sharply, as Ned hesitated. "My time is precious."
"I have been doing wrong," said Ned, suppressing a sob.
"Aha!" said the Doctor, "It was you, then, was it, that broke the panes of glass in Professor Pogger's recitation room?"
Four panes of broken glass had been reported to the Doctor, by the watchful professor, just before dinner, and there was no offence which seemed to the Doctor more heinous, than the wilful waste of manufactured substances.
Unluckily, Ned had, the day before, while throwing snow-balls, broken two of the panes. So all he could answer was, "Yes, sir, I broke two of them, but--"
The rest of the sentence was never finished, for the Doctors temper got rather the better of him. He rose from his chair in awful majesty.
"You wasteful, hard-hearted boy," he exclaimed, "to be breaking windows, and one of your school-fellows dead, too. Leave the room. Your spending money is forfeited for the next two months. And then," added the Doctor, **to come here snivelling, as if that would do any good."
It was with his head high in the air, with his face flushed deep crimson, with every good feeling and emotion repressed, that Ned turned quickly round and marched to the door. He did not heed a somewhat milder, "See here, sir," wherewith the Doctor intended to modify his punishment, but darted through the hall, and up the stairs to Dur-key's room.
"I'm ready for you, Durkey!" was his eager exclamation; but he made the exclamation to the air, for the room was empty. He did not wish to be alone, so he went down to the school-room, and began talking, eagerly, with a knot of boys, who were gathered there. In half an hour, he went to Durkey's room again, and found Durkey sitting at the table, with his face unusually pale, and a strange expression on his countenance.
"I'm ready," he said, going up to Durkey, and putting his arm about his neck, in an affectionate way, "for any kind of fun."
"All right," answered Durkey, and then, in a lower voice, he added, "I have put the bag of counters in Whooney's room, and we are safe."
"Don't you think Whooney'll find it out!" said Ned, his voice trembling, in spite of himself.
"No, indeed," said Durkey, "Not for six months, at least; and, perhaps, never. But I thought you were going to tell Neverasole."
"Tell Dr. Neverasole," said Ned, with a laugh, it was not pleasant to hear. "I've had enough of that. I don't know what got into me. I almost made a fool of myself; but Robert Graham--"
"Look out for Robert Graham," interrupted Durkey. "It is very natural he should want you to own up to taking the money, when he has helped himself to it, too."
"How could he know I took it?" said Ned.
"He followed you out of the Dormitory, the night you climbed up the pear tree."
"How do you know?" said Ned.
"I caught him, and the next night, when you took it, he was out again. Don't you remember, he was put in the lock-up by Neverasole, for being out of his Dormitory?"
"Yes, yes," said Ned.
"It is as clear as daylight," exclaimed Durkey; "he watched you. Then he stepped into my room, and stole the money, and now he has it in his possession. Not surprising, is it, he should want you to take some of it, and own up to Neverasole?"
"I see," said Ned. "What a sneaking hypocrite he is."
"Never mind," said Durkey, fixing a curious glance on Ned, "we will be even with him. He'll find that you and I are too many for him."
Durkey said no more, for, just then, the bell for evening study, interrupted them.
The next day was the funeral. The sun rose bright and clear, and with an unwonted softness in the morning air, that gave token of the approach of spring There was a sort of ghastly inappro.priateness in the pleasant sunshine, which rather added to the solemnity of the day, to the boys. They all put on their Sunday clothes, and greased their hair, as they did on Sunday mornings.
The breakfast made them realize that it was no ordinary day, by its abstemious character. The cook remarked to the kitchen girl, that it would be a shame to have buckwheat cakes, and Rubbers lying dead, who used to like them so--bless his little soul--with which benediction for the departed, she sent up bread and butter, and tea. To the boys, what, under ordinary cir;umstances, would only have provoked grumbling, seemed an appropriate testimony to the funeral occasion. Just after breakfast, Sandy went round with black crape for the left arm of each boy. Several of them had strips of crape for their caps, also, and Sandy, in full suit of black, with black crape cravat, and crape on his arm, and a thick piece on his cap, seemed quite like a widower.
At ten o'clock, there was a sensation caused by the arrival of Mr. Bitters. The boys flocked to the front windows, to look at him. Not that there was anything particular to see in Mr. Bitters, and he came in an ordinary buggy; but he was well known in the neighborhood, as a retired undertaker, who never attended funerals, except, so to speak, as a matter of pleasure. He had lived in Dorchester, and had made a comfortable property in the business, and now lived near the Academy.
He led a quiet life with Mrs. Bitters, in a pleasant little house, with a neat garden. He could never, altogether, get over his old associations, and regularly, every day, as soon as the Dorchester Daily Lyar reached Hubville, turned at once, not as others, to the news, but to the column of deaths.
He dwelt with thoughtful attention, on the arrangements hinted at, in the notices for the funerals. He speculated as to what undertaker would have the job. He would sometimes pause, and look up at his wife, and say, "So he has gone; I buried his wife, just five years and six months ago." Quite often he would call for an early breakfast, and be gone all day, in Dorchester, and not return until night. On these occasions, his wife knew he would have been attending some funeral, of more than ordinary attractions. Whenever he read an account of two children dying of scarlet fever, within a day or two of each other, with the two funerals at the same time and place, he was sure to be off. When the obituary stated that carriages would be in attendance, to meet such and such a train from Dorchester at some rural place, a few miles away, he was sure to be on hand, and in his comely suit of black, seemed like a relative of the family.
Indeed, his habits were so well known, that his presence at a funeral began to be regarded as a sort of testimony to the greater affliction of this especial occasion. In Ins own neighborhood, however, he attended all funerals, making no distinctions, and assumed general direction of the occasion.
Thus, his arrival at the Academy was the first symptom of the funeral. He was closeted, for some time, with the Doctor. The boys sat round in groups of two and three, and scarcely spoke above a whisper. There was a shudder and, a chill went through them all, when they heard a sound of heavy foot-steps coming down from the sickroom, as of those who bore a heavy load. It passed through the hall, and by the school-room door, and into the chapel. Now, through the slush and mud, came the hearse and carriages, and stopped in front of the hall-door. Two large ommbusses, also, appeared. This was not regarded with favor, by the boys, as they were evidently intended to carry them to the funeral, and there was a decided feeling that an omnibus was hardly a sufficient tribute to the memory of their school-fellow.
The eight pall-bearers, who were busily engaged in putting on their black kid gloves--it being understood that they were to ride in carriages--regarded it as unfeeling, that any boy should notice such things. Presently, the boys were summoned to the chapel. They went in, two by two. First came Durkey, arm in arm with Bolmer, and so on, in order.
Everybody avoided Popkins, and he stood in the doorway, half inclined not to go into the chapel, when Robert put his arm in his, and they walked in, the last of all. The chapel was a large, bare room, with a platform at one end, with a sofa and a few chairs upon it. It was used, on week days, for declamations and an occasional lecture, and on Sundays, for religious worship. The benches were a good deal hacked and marked, and one curious for information, might have found many poetic effusions, generally not of a complimentary character, in regard to Dr. Nevera-sole, Mr. Whooney, and others. The associations of the place, were anything but solemn, and the great variety of religious exercises, held there on Sundays, did not add much to the week-day impressions. But now, the place had suddenly become consecrated. That silent form, enshrouded in the hushed darkness of the coffin, had filled the chapel with a Presence, unknown there before. A gulf, not to be crossed, separated this day from any time before, in that place. A picture of Mr. Whooney, only half done, and just lacking the well-known spectacles, stared at Edward Stebbins, as though a generation had passed away since he had begun it. There was an oppressive silence. Two horse-flies, drawn out from whatsoever cranny they had wintered in, by the soft sunshine, falling on the south window, buzzed so loud, that Dr. Neverasole looked severely at them.
The clock, at which many an eye was wont to gaze, during, the lengthened discourses of Professor Poggers, now ticked as though each tick was intended to be more emphatic than the last. Meanwhile, the Academy bell kept slowly tolling. On the sofa sat Dr. Neverasole, with a neat, black patch on the end of his nose, and the Rev. Mr. Fowler, who was to officiate. Mrs. Neverasole's face was hid in a handkerchief; so was Miss Mehitabel's, except that, as each new arrival, in the shape of some of the neighbors, entered the chapel door, she looked up with becoming resignation, to see who it was.
The service began, and as Mrs. Neverasole said, in a letter describing the exercises, "Mr. Fowler first made an eloquent address to the throne of grace, in which he alluded, in the most feeling and appropriate manner, to the Academy, its admirable system of instruction, and the excellent Principal and his kind hearted lady.''
Then followed the discourse. I am afraid there was nothing very eloquent or appropriate about it; indeed, the ordinary observer would have called it unusually inappropriate; but the coffin, with its still occupant, pointed every word with an application that did not belong to them. The dead boy preached louder than the living man. It made Popkins think he would give up swearing. It set Cropsey a crying. Snippers had visions of honesty and generosity. Whiffles said a little prayer to himself, that he might be a good boy. Edward half resolved to tell Mr. Whooney.
Did it make any impression on Durkey? What could one read in that clear cut face, that smooth brow, those eyes, which showed no trace of emotion? He kept patching every movement of Mr. Whooney--who was more uneasy and nervous than usual---and in prayer and sermon, kept his eye on him, and noted every change of position. Now the service was over. Heavily, down the stairs, they bore the coffin. They placed it, with effect, in the hearse, and covered it with the black cloth. On moved the funeral train, slowly through mud and slush, to the Hubville cemetery. The snow lay deep and cold over many a grave, and the great fir trees waved their branches and sighed in the rising wind. The services were soon over, and the boys, who had shaken and shivered at the grave, rather enjoyed the ride back again, and with a certain guilty feeling, enjoyed a good tea, on their return.