Gil and I, of course, had immediately understood the horrors of that gravestone, and that understanding had sent both of us to the ground.
First was the tragic story that the stone told. The wife of S. T. Leon had died in childbirth on 1 February 1851.[i] And her baby had had lived only an hour. Whoever this S. T. Leon was, he must have been devastated—losing his wife, his daughter, all within an hour on the same day.
But there was more. S. T. Leon. The same initials, the same last name, as our school’s custodian. An ancestor?
And finally—I’m not sure what Gil knew (I would find out later), but I was also struck by the baby’s name: Mary W. Mary Wollstonecraft was the mother of Mary Godwin (who later married Bysshe Shelley); she, too, died in childbirth (in 1797). And Mary Godwin’s middle name? Wollstonecraft. This was getting weird.
Harriet, of course, knew nothing about the experience that Gil and I had had with Mr. Leon on the day of our detention. Nor did she know about his initials. I hadn’t had a chance to talk with her yet. But she, too, had read the sad short story carved in the sandstone, and as I looked up at her, I saw tears in her eyes.
“That’s so sad,” Harriet said. “That poor man.”
“It is sad,” I said, regaining my feet. “And very creepy, too.”
Harriet looked at me. “Creepy? Why creepy?”
“I’ll tell you later,” I said. I looked down at Gil, still seated in front of the stone. Without looking at me, he raised his arm—the sign for help. I grabbed his hand—his cold hand—and helped him to his feet. He stood there, pale, his forehead perspiring despite his icy hands, looking at Harriet and me.
“Are you going to introduce me to your friend?” he finally asked.
I’d forgotten. He and Harriet had never met. “Oh, sorry,” I said. “Harriet, this is Gil Bysshe. Gil, Harriet Eastbrook.” She smiled.
“I’ve seen you cheer,” he said.
“You have?” She smiled more.
“At the pep rallies,” he added.
Harriet seemed expectant—as if waiting for some kind of praise from Gil, like And you were great, too. But he didn’t say anything else. He just stood there with a sort of crooked look on his face—not sarcastic, though. Friendly.
Gil’s face changed. He was looking behind us. We turned. Ms. Medwin.
“Are you all right?” she asked us.
We said we were.
“Do you have your notes finished?”
We said we did.
“Good—because it’s about time for us to leave.” She gestured back toward the archway, where we could see the rest of the kids were gathering.
Silently, we started moving toward the others.
On the way back to school, Harriet, Gil, and I walked together. The rain had started—more like a steady drizzle. Harriet’s cheerleader friend sort of trailed along a few steps behind us for a little bit, then found another group of people to walk with. Harriet, I knew, would have some explaining to do later on. But she was good at that. Explaining. Getting people to understand. And forgive her.
We took turns, the three of us, showing the others what we’d found on our gravestones. Gil and Harriet were puzzled about the epitaph from the grave I’d taken: He tried—but failed. They, too, wondered what he had tried to do. And Harriet wondered, “What kind of person would put something like that on someone’s else’s grave? Something that will be there forever?”
“Well, I don’t know about ‘forever,’” I said. “Some of the inscriptions are almost gone already—and I could barely even read this one.”
Harriet’s stone was a lot more “normal”—whatever that means. She showed us what she’d written:
Nov. 12, 1819 – Dec. 5, 1889
Daughter, Sister, Mother, Grandmother
“Fair as a star when only one is shining in the sky” — Wordsworth
“That one’s pretty good,” said Gil, and I felt Harriet stiffen a little at the word pretty. She, I knew, that it was really good. “Now take a look at this one—another sad one.
July 8, 1804 – July 8, 1822
“Alas, then, she is drown’d?” — Shakespeare, “Hamlet”
“That’s a horribly sad one, too,” said Harriet. “Drowned. At …” She was doing math in her head.
“Eighteen,” I said.
“Eighteen,” echoed Harriet.
“On her birthday,” said Gil.
“What could be worse?” I asked.
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Gil. “It’s kind of a perfect circle, isn’t it?”