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The Cemetery
by [?]

In a town of the steppes where I found life exceedingly dull, the best and the brightest spot was the cemetery. Often did I use to walk there, and once it happened that I fell asleep on some thick, rich, sweet-smelling grass in a cradle-like hollow between two tombs.

From that sleep I was awakened with the sound of blows being struck against the ground near my head. The concussion of them jarred me not a little, as the earth quivered and tinkled like a bell. Raising myself to a sitting posture, I found sleep still so heavy upon me that at first my eyes remained blinded with unfathomable darkness, and could not discern what the matter was. The only thing that I could see amid the golden glare of the June sunlight was a wavering blur which at intervals seemed to adhere to a grey cross, and to make it give forth a succession of soft creaks.

Presently, however–against my wish, indeed–that wavering blur resolved itself into a little, elderly man. Sharp-featured, with a thick, silvery tuft of hair beneath his under lip, and a bushy white moustache curled in military fashion, on his upper, he was using the cross as a means of support as, with his disengaged hand outstretched, and sawing the air, he dug his foot repeatedly into the ground, and, as he did so, bestowed upon me sundry dry, covert glances from the depths of a pair of dark eyes.

“What have you got there?” I inquired.

“A snake,” he replied in an educated bass voice, and with a rugged forefinger he pointed downwards; whereupon I perceived that wriggling on the path at his feet and convulsively whisking its tail, there was an echidna.

“Oh, it is only a grassworm,” I said vexedly.

The old man pushed away the dull, iridescent, rope-like thing with the toe of his boot, raised a straw hat in salute, and strode firmly onwards.

“I thank you,” I called out; whereupon, he replied without looking behind him:

“If the thing really WAS a grassworm, of course there was no danger.”

Then he disappeared among the tombstones.

Looking at the sky, I perceived the time to be about five o’clock.

The steppe wind was sighing over the tombs, and causing long stems of grass to rock to and fro, and freighting the heated air with the silken rustling of birches and limes and other trees, and leading one to detect amid the humming of summer a note of quiet grief eminently calculated to evoke lofty, direct thoughts concerning life and one’s fellow-men.

Veiling with greenery, grey and white tombstones worn with the snows of winter, crosses streaked with marks of rain, and the wall with which the graveyard was encircled, the rank vegetation served to also conceal the propinquity of a slovenly, clamorous town which lay coated with rich, sooty grime amid an atmosphere of dust and smells.

As I set off for a ramble among the tombs and tangled grass, I could discern through openings in the curtain of verdure a belfry’s gilded cross which reared itself solemnly over crosses and memorials. At the foot of those memorials the sacramental vestment of the cemetery was studded with a kaleidoscopic sheen of flowers over which bees and wasps were so hovering and humming that the grass’s sad, prayerful murmur seemed charged with a song of life which yet did not hinder reflections on death. Fluttering above me on noiseless wing were birds the flight of which sometimes made me start, and stand wondering whether the object before my gaze was really a bird or not: and everywhere the shimmer of gilded sunlight was setting the close-packed graveyard in a quiver which made the mounds of its tombs reminiscent of a sea when, after a storm, the wind has fallen, and all the green level is an expanse of smooth, foamless billows.

Beyond the wall of the cemetery the blue void of the firmament was pierced with smoky chimneys of oil-mills and soap factories, the roofs of which showed up like particoloured stains against the darker rags and tatters of other buildings; while blinking in the sunlight I could discern clatter-emitting, windows which looked to me like watchful eyes. Only on the nearer side of the wall was a sparse strip of turf dotted over with ragged, withered, tremulous stems, and beyond this, again, lay the site of a burnt building which constituted a black patch of earth-heaps, broken stoves, dull grey ashes, and coal dust. To heaven gaped the black, noisome mouths of burning-pits wherein the more economical citizens were accustomed nightly to get rid of the contents of their dustbins. Among the tall stems of steppe grass waved large, glossy leaves of ergot; in the sunlight splinters of broken glass sparkled as though they were laughing; and, from two spots in the dark brown plot which formed a semicircle around the cemetery, there projected, like teeth, two buildings the new yellow paint of which nevertheless made them look mean and petty amid the tangle of rubbish, pigweed, groundsel, and dock.