Wavering strains of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” reached Martha as she hurried across the back lawn. She stopped, turning to watch the funeral at the far end of the cemetery, the black lace which hung from her hat tickling her cheeks.
It was a small ceremony, she thought, stroking the velvet top of the stovepipe hat in her hands with aching fingers. Master Fairhaven had buried most of his own kin long before today, and it seemed that there were few members of the Fairhaven clan left to pay their respects to the old gentleman.
Turning away with a tut, Martha Greywood continued towards the shed, nestled just inside the woods at the back of the groundskeeper’s house. She had seen well over two hundred funerals since she’d married Eustace Greywood, the groundskeeper of Uckfield’s only cemetery. The old, the young, the wicked, and the good, lay side by side in the clay under her feet. The child funerals were the hardest to watch; the young ones who had barely drawn a breath before rejoining the heavenly Father. Martha swallowed down the lump in her throat.
She had buried her own mother and father in the cemetery some years ago, and her and Eustace’s plots were all picked out; she weeded them every Sunday. The rosy-cheeked youth had seemed an odd companion for the dour groundskeeper when they wed, but forty years of harmonious matrimony proved the town gossips wrong; Martha was quite happy being a groundskeeper’s wife and especially liked living in the cemetery.
The shed door swung open with a soft creak, like the bough of a tree bending in the wind. Motes of dust floated in sunbeams from the skylights in the roof, the air inside warm and thick and undisturbed, like a grave itself.
Humming along with the distant hymns, Martha crossed the dirt floor to the small workbench in the back of the building. She placed the hat down onto the bench with a pat, swinging her head in time with the music as she slid a slip of paper off a stack by the inkwell. In her well-ordered hand, she wrote “Master Neville Fairhaven. Gone to Our Lord on June 23rd, 1887. May He Rest in Peace”.
Martha smiled, flexing her rheumatic hands as she admired her work. It was so important to keep a good record of these things. After all, soon she would be gone herself, and someone else would have to take care of her collection.
Skirts swishing rhythmically down the long rows of shelves, her sharp, brown eyes searched for a suitable place for Master Fairhaven to rest. There were a few spots open on the bottom shelf by the door, but that would never do. Master Fairhaven had been a pillar of the community; Martha couldn’t leave his hat to gather dust by the floor. Finally, a spot at the far end of the middle shelf caught her eye.
Sighing happily, she tucked the slip of paper and the stovepipe hat under one arm and dragged the step-ladder over to the shelf. Careful not to tangle her feet in her long, black skirt, Martha climbed up and placed the hat into the space between Madame Kingsbury’s locket and Young Ellie Turner’s embroidered handkerchief. She slid the paper label into the empty frame with a flourish and clapped her hands together with pride. A lovely spot for Master Fairhaven indeed.
Walking past her rows of trinkets and keepsakes, she began to hum to herself once again. If she lived much longer, she thought with a giggle, she would have to get Eustace to build an addition on to the shed. Over two hundred pieces of bric-a-brac was a lot to store in one place, but it was important, she reminded herself as she closed the door on the possessions’ of the dead, to make sure that everyone was remembered.
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