I HAVE told you that little Lib was a delicate child, and that she grew more and more fragile and weak as the summer went on. In the hot, dry days of August she drooped like a thirsty flower, and her strength failed very fast. Her voice, though still sweet and clear, lost its shrillness, and one had to draw very close to the little speaker that he might not lose a word of the stories she told. Aunt Jane York often came out to us now, anxious and fussy, talking fretfully of and to little Lib, feeling the small hands and feet to see if they were cold, and drawing the shawl closer around the wasted form. I know she loved the little girl, and perhaps she wished now that she had shown that love more tenderly. She talked freely, in the very presence of the child, of her rapid decline and the probability that she would not "last long." Lib said nothing concerning her own condition, and showed no sign of having heard her aunt's comments. But one day, when Miss York, after speaking very freely and plainly of the child's approaching end, had gone indoors, Lib announced, in a low, sweet voice, a new story.
Once there was a boy that was dreadful scaret o' dyin'. Some folks is that way, you know; they ain't never done it to know how it feels, and they 're scaret. And this boy was that way. He wa' n't very rugged, his health was sort o' slim, and mebbe that made him think about sech things more. 'T any rate, he was terr'ble scaret o' dyin'. 'T was a long time ago this was,—the times when posies and creaturs could talk so 's folks could know what they was sayin'.
And one day, as this boy, his name was Reuben,—I forget his other name,—as Reuben was settin' under a tree, an ellum tree, cryin', he heerd a little, little bit of a voice,—not squeaky, you know, but small and thin and soft like,—and he see 't was a posy talkin'. 'T was one o' them posies they call Benjamins, with three-cornered whitey blowths with a mite o' pink on 'em, and it talked in a kind o' pinky-white voice, and it says, "What you cryin' for, Reuben?" And he says, " 'Cause I 'm scaret o' dyin'," says he; "I 'm dreadful scaret o' dyin'." Well, what do you think? That posy jest laughed,—the most cur'us little pinky-white laugh 't was,—and it says, the Benjamin says: "Dyin'! Scaret o' dyin'? Why, I die myself every single year o' my life." "Die yourself!" says Reuben. "You 're foolin'; you 're alive this minute." " 'Course I be," says the Benjamin; "but that 's neither here nor there,—I 've died every year sence I can remember." "Don't it hurt?" says the boy. "No, it don't," says the posy; "it 's real nice. You see, you get kind o' tired a-holdin' up your head straight and lookin' peart and wide awake, and tired o' the sun shinin' so hot, and the winds blowin' you to pieces, and the bees a-takin' your honey. So it 's nice to feel sleepy and kind o' hang your head down, and get sleepier and sleepier, and then find you 're droppin' off. Then you wake up jest 't the nicest time o' year, and come up and look 'round, and—why, I like to die, I do." But someways that did n't help Reuben much as you 'd think. "I ain't a posy," he think to himself, "and mebbe I would n't come up."
Well, another time he was settin' on a stone in the lower pastur', cryin' again, and he heerd another cur'us little voice. 'T wa' n't like the posy's voice, but 't was a little, wooly, soft, fuzzy voice, and he see 't was a caterpillar a-talkin' to him. And the caterpillar says, in his fuzzy little voice, he says, "What you cryin' for, Reuben?" And the boy, he says, "I 'm powerful scaret o' dyin', that 's why," he says. And that fuzzy caterpillar he laughed. "Dyin'!" he says. "I 'm lottin' on dyin' myself. All my fam'ly," he says, "die every once in a while, and when they wake up they 're jest splendid,—got wings, and fly about, and live on honey and things. Why, I would n't miss it for anything!" he says. "I 'm lottin' on it." But somehow that did n't chirk up Reuben much. "I ain't a caterpillar," he says, "and mebbe I would n't wake up at all."
Well, there was lots o' other things talked to that boy, and tried to help him,—trees and posies and grass and crawlin' things, that was allers a-dyin' and livin', and livin' and dyin'. Reuben thought it did n't help him any, but I guess it did a little mite, for he could n't help thinkin' o' what they every one on 'em said. But he was scaret all the same.
And one summer he begun to fail up faster and faster, and he got so tired he could n't hardly hold his head up, but he was scaret all the same. And one day he was layin' on the bed, and lookin' out o' the east winder, and the sun kep' a-shinin' in his eyes till he shet 'em up, and he fell asleep. He had a real good nap, and when he woke up he went out to take a walk.
And he begun to think o' what the posies and trees and creaturs had said about dyin', and how they laughed at his bein' scaret at it, and he says to himself, "Why, someways I don't feel so scaret to-day, but I s'pose I be." And jest then what do you think he done? Why, he met a Angel. He 'd never seed one afore, but he knowed it right off. And the Angel says, "Ain't you happy, little boy?" And Reuben says, "Well, I would be, only I 'm so dreadful scaret o' dyin. It must be terr'ble cur'us," he says, "to be dead." And the Angel says, "Why, you be dead." And he was.
The story of the boy that was scaret o' dyin' was the last story that little Lib ever told us. We saw her sometimes after that, but she was not strong enough to talk much. She sat no longer now in the low chair under the maples, but lay on a chintz-covered couch in the sitting-room, by the west windows. The once shrilly-sweet voice with its clear bird tones was but a whisper now, as she told us over and again, while she lay there, that she would tell us a new story "to-morrow." It was always "to-morrow" till the end came. And the story was to be, so the whisper went on, "the beautif'lest story,—oh, you never did!" And its name was to be,—what a faint and feeble reproduction of the old triumphant announcement of a new title!—"The Posy Gardin' that the King Kep'."
She never told us that story. Before the autumn leaves had fallen, while the maples in front of the farmhouse were still red and glorious in their dying beauty, we laid our little friend to rest. Perhaps she will tell us the tale some day. I am sure there will be "a Angel" in it,—sure, too, that the story will have a new and tender meaning if we hear it there, that story of the King and of the posy gardin' he kep'.