MR. David Taylor had been for many years chief steward, during the season of navigation, upon a steamboat running between Groveland and Buffalo, on one of the Great Lakes. The salary and perquisites made the place a renum[mun]erative one, and Mr. Taylor had saved considerable money. During the winter time he ran a coal yard, where he supplied poor people with coal in small quantities at a large profit. He invested his savings in real estate, and in the course of time became the owner of a row of small houses on a side street in Groveland, as well as of a larger house on the corner of the adjacent main street.
Mr. Taylor was a stout mulatto, with curly hair and a short gray Mustache. He had been a little wild in his youth, but had settled down into a steady old bachelor, in which state he remained until he was past forty-five, When he surprised his friends by marrying a young wife and taking her to live with him in the comer house.
Miss Lula Sampson, was a very personable young woman, of not more than twenty-two or twenty-three. She had not been without other admirers; but Mr. Taylor's solid attractions had more than counter-balanced the advantages of these others in the way of youth and sprightliness. For Miss Sampson, while not without her sentimental side, had a practical vein as well, and concluded that on the whole it would be better to be a rich old man's darling than a poor, young man's slave.
They lived together very comfortably in the corner house, and Mrs. Taylor enjoyed to the full such advantages as regular rents and savings-bank dividends carried in their train. Mr. Taylor had been many years a leading member of the Jerusalem Methodist Church, in which he had at various times acted as class-leader, trustee and deacon, and of which he had been at all times the financial backer and manager. Mrs. Taylor had been brought up, so to speak, in the Mt. Horeb Baptist Church, and had at one time sung in the choir; but after her marriage she very dutifully attended service with her husband, only visiting the Baptist church on special occasions, such as weddings or funerals or other events of general public interest.
One day in May, 1900, a month or more after the opening of navigation in the Spring, Mr. Taylor left Groveland on the steamer Mather for Buffalo, on one of her, regular semi-weekly trips to that port. When the steamer returned several days later without him, his wife and friends felt some concern at his nonappearance, as no message had been received from him in the meantime. Inquiry on the steamer merely brought out the fact that Taylor had not been on hand when the boat was ready to leave port, and that she had sailed without him; in fact he had not been missed until the Mather was some miles out.
When several days more elapsed without news from the absent man, his wife's uneasiness became a well-defined alarm. She could account for his absence on no hypothesis except that some harm had befallen, him. And upon reading an item in a newspaper, about a week after Mr. Taylor's disappearance, to the effect that the body of a middle-aged mulatto had been found floating in Buffalo harbor, she divined at once that her husband had been the victim of accident, or foul play, and that it was his body that had been recovered. With a promptitude born of sincere regret and wifely sorrow, she requested the company of Deacon Larkins, the intimate personal friend and class-leader of her husband, and with him took the train for Buffalo. Arriving there they found the body at an undertaking establishment. It had evidently been in the water several days, and the features were somewhat disfigured, but nevertheless Mrs. Taylor had no difficulty in identifying the body, as that of her late husband. She had the remains prepared for shipment, and the day after her arrival at Buffalo accompanied them back to Groveland. She had telegraphed for a hearse to be at the depot, and when she saw the coffin placed in it she took a carriage with Deacon Larkins and drove to her home.
"Brother Larkins," she said, in grief-stricken accents, as she thought of her good friend and husband and of the narrow cell in which he must soon be laid, "I wish you world t-t-take charge of the arrangements for the f-f-funeral. I know my dear dead David loved you, and, would have wished you to attend to it."
"I shall be glad to, Sister Taylor. It is the last service I can perform for my dear friend and brother. His loss will be a sad blow to the church, and to us all."
In pursuance of his instructions Deacon Larkins engaged an undertaker, inserted in the newspapers a notice announcing the date of the funeral, requested six of the intimate friends of the deceased to act as pall-bearers, and telegraphed the pastor of the Methodist Church, who was out of town, to be on hand on Wednesday, at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, to conduct the services and preach the funeral sermon. Several friends of the family called on Mrs. Taylor during the day preceding the funeral, among them the Reverend Alonzo Brown, pastor of the Mt. Horeb Baptist Church. Mr. Brown was a youngish man, apparently not more than thirty, and had himself suffered a bereavement several years before, in the loss of a wife to whom he had made a model husband, so excellent a husband indeed that more than one lady had envied his wife when living, and when she died, had thought that her successor would be indeed a fortunate woman. In addition to possessing these admirable domestic qualities the Reverend Alonzo was a very handsome man, of light-brown complexion, and with large and expressive, black eyes, and very glossy curly hair. Indeed, Mrs. Taylor herself had several times thought that if an overruling Providence in its inscrutable wisdom should see fit to remove her dear David from his earthly career while she was yet a young woman-which was not at all unlikely, since he was twenty-five years her senior-there was no man of her acquaintance, with whom she could more willingly spend the remainder of her days and the money her good David would leave her, than the Reverend Alonzo Brown. Of course this had been only one of the vague day dreams of a lively imagination; but it is not surprising, when the central figure in this vision called on her upon the heels of the very event upon which the day-dreams had been predicated, that the idea should penetrate even the veil of grief that surrounded her, and assume something of the nature of a definite probability.
Mr. Brown was a man of tact, and consoled the widow very beautifully in her bereavement.
"Yes, Sister Taylor," he said, pressing her hand with soothing friendliness, "your loss is indeed great, for your husband was a man of whom any woman might have been proud. You displayed excellent taste and judgment, too, Sister Taylor, in selecting as your companion a man of steady habits and settled character, who could leave you suitably provided for during the rest of your 1ife.["]
The widow sobbed at the magnitude of her loss, but was not unmindful of the compliment to her own taste and judgment.
"But the saddest feature about our dear brother's taking off is not your loss;" he said, again pressing her hand consolingly, "it is what he himself has lost-the companionship of one who made his household a model for his friends to imitate and the despair of those who could not hope to be so fortunate. It is true,'' he added, with proper professional consistency, "that he has gone to his reward; but I am sure he would willingly have waited for it a few years longer in this terrestrial paradise."
The minister, as he said this, looked around appreciatively at the very comfortable room in which they sat. There was handsome paper on the walls, a bright red carpet on the floor, lace curtains at the windows, a piano, a well-filled book-case,-and in fact all the evidences of solid prosperity, based on landed proprietorship. And by his side too, sat the weeping young widow, to whom tears and weeds were by no means unbecoming.
While he had been speaking an idea had occurred to Mrs. Taylor. She was before her marriage a member of his church. The pastor of the Methodist church, she had learned since her return from Buffalo, was out of town, in attendance on the general conference of his denomination in session at New York. It would be a very nice thing indeed to have Mr. Brown preach the funeral sermon.
"Brother Brown," she said, on the impulse of the moment, "I want you to do me a favor. Will you preach my dear David's funeral sermon?" He reflected a moment. It was an opportunity to secure that influence which would enable him to lead back into his fold this very desirable sheep.
"If you don't think it will be taken amiss by his own church," he answered, "it would give me great pleasure to perform the last sad rites over our departed friend."
"There will be no trouble about that," she replied. "Elder Johnson has gone to general conference, and there is no one else whom I would prefer to yourself. I ask it as a personal favor."
"It shall be done at any cost," he said determinedly, again pressing her hand in farewell.
"And if you will ask the choir to sing, I shall be under still greater obligations," she said. "They are all my friends, and I have often joined with them on similar occasions, before I was married, and I'm sure you would prefer them."
About an hour after Mr. Brown went away, Deacon Larkins called to make a final report of the arrangements he had made.
"I've requested several of the brethren to act as pallbearers," he said, naming them, "and have asked the choir to furnish the music. Elder Johnson telegraphed this afternoon that he would be here in time to preach the sermon. He has already started, and will get here by half-past one, and come right up from the depot."
Mrs. Taylor scented trouble. "But I thought he couldn't come, and I've invited Elder Brown to preach the sermon," she said.
Deacon Larkins looked annoyed. "There'll be trouble," he said. "You asked me to make arrangements and I acted accordingly."
"What can we do about it?" she asked anxiously.
"Don't ask me," he said. "I'm not responsible for the difficulty."
"But you can help me," she said. "I see no way out of it but to explain the situation to Elder Brown and ask him to retire. Please do that for me."
Deacon Larkins grumbled a little and went away, intending to do as requested. But the more he thought about the matter the more displeased he felt at the widow's action. She had not only been guilty of disrespect to him, in asking a minister to conduct the services, without consulting the man in whose charge she had placed the arrangements, but she had committed the far more serious offense of slighting the Methodist church. He could hardly think of a graver breach of propriety than to ask the minister of a rival denomination to officiate at this funeral. If it had been some obscure member of the congregation the matter would have been of less consequence but to request the Baptist minister to preach Brother David's funeral sermon was something like asking Martin Luther to assist at the Pope's interment. The more Deacon Larkins thought of it the less he liked it; and finally he concluded that he would simply wash his hands of the entire business-if the widow wanted to call off Elder Brown she would have to do it herself.
He wrote a note to this effect and sent it by his youngest son, a lad of ten, with instructions to deliver it to Mrs. Taylor. The boy met a companion and went off to play, and lost the note. His father was away when he got back home. In the meantime the boy had forgotten about the note, and left his father to infer that it had been delivered.
About a quarter of two on the day of the funeral the friends began to arrive. The undertaker in charge seated them. When the Baptist choir came it was shown to the place provided before hand for the singers. When a few minutes later the Methodist choir arrived and stated what their part in the service was to be, the undertaker, supposing they were an addition to the number already on hand, gave them the seats nearest those occupied by the Baptist choir. There was some surprise apparent, but for a while nothing was said, the members of the two bodies, confining themselves to looks not altogether friendly. Some of them thought it peculiar that, if the two choirs had been asked to cooperate, there had been no notice given and no opportunity to practice together; but all awaited for the coming of the officiating minister to solve the difficulty. Meantime the friends of the family continued to arrive, until the room where the remains were placed was filled to overflowing, and there were people standing in the hall and seated in other rooms from which they would be able to see or hear very little of the exercises.
At just five minutes to two a livery carriage drove up to the gate, and deposited on the pavement a tall dark man, wearing a silk hat, a high vest, and a coat of clerical cut-it was Elder Johnson, of the Jerusalem Methodist Church. The elder paid the driver his fee, and went in at the front gate. At the same moment the pastor of the Baptist Church came in at the side gate and drew near the front door. The two preachers met on the porch, and bowed to one another stiffly. The undertaker's assistant came forward and took their hats.
"Which of you: gentlemen is to conduct the service?" asked the undertaker, with a professionally modulated voice.
"I shall conduct the service," answered Elder Jos[h]nson in a matter-of-fact tone.
"I am to conduct the service," said Mr. Brown firmly, in the same breath.
Elder Johnson looked surprised, Mr. Brown looked determined, and they glared at each other belligerently.
"May I ask what you mean, sir?" said Elder Johnson, recovering somewhat his surprise.
"I mean, sir, that I'm going to conduct the funeral exercises," replied the other.
The undertaker began to feel uneasy It was his first funeral in that neighborhood, and he had expected to make a reputation by his success in directing it.
"There's evidently some misunderstanding here," he said, in a propitiatory tone.
"There's no misunderstanding on my part," said Elder Johnson. "I was telegraphed to by Deacon Larkins, at the widow's request. and have left important business and come five hundred miles at considerable expense to preach this funeral and I intend to preach it, or know the reason why."
"There can be no possible misunder standing on my part," replied Mr. Brown. "People may send telegrams without authority; or under a mistaken impression; but I was asked by the widow, personally, to conduct the, funeral services, and I propose to do so."
"The deceased was a member of my church before the widow was born, retorted Elder Johnson, making in his warmth a mistake of several years. "I was requested by the widow's agent to conduct this service, and have come here prepared to do it. Every consideration of duty and decency requires me to insist. Even the wishes of the widow should hardly be permitted to stand in the way of what, in this case, is the most obvious propriety."
"The widow," said Mr. Brown, "is the principal one concerned. Her wishes should be sacred on such an occasion, to say nothing of her rights. I'll not retire until I am personally requested by her to do so. I received my commission from her, and I'll resign it to her only."
"Wait a moment, gentlemen," said the undertaker, hopefully, "until I go and speak to the widow."
The colloquy on the porch had not gone unnoticed. Through the half-closed. Venetian blinds a number of the guests had seen the group apparently engaged in animated discussion, though their voices had been pitched in low tones; and there was considerable curiosity as to what was going on.
In a few moments the undertaker returned. "Gentlemen," he said in desperation, "something must, be done. I can't get anything out of the widow. She is almost hysterical with grief, and utterly unfit to decide on anything. You must come to some agreement. Why can't you divide the services between you?"
The rival clergymen set their faces even more rigidly.
"I can submit to no division," said Elder Johnson, "that does not permit me to preach the sermon. No man could know Brother Taylor as well as I did, and no man could possibly be so well prepared to pronounce a fitting eulogy on his life. It would be an insult to my church for any one but Brother Taylor's pastor to preach his funeral; in fact, it seems to me not only in bad taste, but bordering on indecency for the pastor of another church, of another denomination, to take advantage of a widow's grief and irresponsibility, and try to force himself where the most elementary principles of professional courtesy would require him to stay away. However, I'm willing to overlook that, under the circumstances, if Brother Brown will be content to read the Scripture's and lead in one of the prayers."
"I repel Brother Johnson's insinuations with scorn; their animus is very plain." said the Baptist minister, with some heat. "I will accept of no compromise, that does not allow me to deliver the discourse. I was personally requested to do so; I have prepared a sermon with special reference to the needs of this particular case. If I don't use it my labor is wasted. My brother seems, to think there's nobody to be considered in this matter but the deceased, whereas I. am of quite the contrary opinion."
It was very apparent that no such compromise as the one proposed was possible. Meanwhile the curiosity on the inside. was rising to fever heat; a number of eyes were glancing through the blinds, and several late comers had collected about the steps leading up to the porch and were listening intently.
Pending this last statement by the reverend gentlemen of their respective positions, the undertaker had had time to think. He was a man of resources, and the emergency brought out his latent powers. A flash of professional inispiration came to his aid.
"Gentlemen," he said soothingly, "I think I can see a way out of this difficulty" which will give each of you an opportunity to officiate, and prevent the funeral from I being spoiled. Here are two large rooms, opening by wide doors from opposite sides of a central hall.There are people enough to fill the two rooms easily. The remains can be placed in the hall between the two rooms, where they can be seen from both. Each of you conduct a service in a separate room, and all the guests can be comfortably seated, in a position to hear or participate in one service or the other."
The proposition was a novel one, but it possessed the merit of practicability, and after some brief demur, both ministers reluctantly, consented to the arrargement. The body, was quickly removed to the hall, and disposed in a position where it would be visible from both rooms. The undertaker made a brief statement of the situation, and announced that two services would be held. The company divided according to their individual preferences, some taking seats in the other room, others remaining where they were. The Baptist choir of course went with, their own minister, the Methodist choir remained with theirs. When the widow came out, clad in deepest weeds and sobbing softly, she took her seat, whether by inadvertence, or choice did not appear, in the room where Mr. Brown had elected to conduct his part of the ceremony.
Each service opened with singing. The Methodist choir sang "Rock of Ages." The Baptist Chior softly chanted "Asleep in Jesus," until they were compelled to sing louder in order to be heard at all. Each of the ministers then read a passage of Scripture; there was no conflict in this, as they were far enough apart to avoid confusion.
Each then offered prayer. The Methodist minister rendered thanks for the blessing of a beautiful life that had been spared so long among them as an example of right living. Mr. Brown, on the other side of the hall, with equal fervor asked for comfort to the sorrowing widow in her bereavement. And each in his own words prayed that the event they had come together to mourn over might be a warning to those present of the transitioriness of all earthly good, and that by calling attention to the common mortality it might humble their souls and drive out jealousy and envy and malice and all uncharitableness.
At the close of the prayers there was another musical number-or rather two of them. The Baptist choir rendered an anthem breathing resignation and comfort. The Methodist choir sang a hymn of triumph over death and the grave. Some one discreetly closed one of the doors during the singing, so that no discord marred the harmony of this part of the service.
When the two addresses were well under way, a man came up the street and entered the premises by the front gate. There had been several late arrivals, but until this one appeared they had all found seats in the house. As the newcomer approached he saw the crepe upon the door, noted the half-drawn blinds, and glanced across the lot at the row of carriages drawn up on the side street. With an expression of mingled wonder and alarm, he drew nearer the door and heard the sound of preaching. He stepped softly upon the porch but paused before he reached the door, and, after hesitating a moment, came down again, and going around to the side of the house stood on tiptoe and peered curiously through the half-closed blinds at the scene within. First he noticed the coffin, piled high with flowers. Then. the sermon fixed his attention, and clutching the window-sill with his elbows he stood listening for several minutes.
"Indeed, my dear brethren and sisters," Elder Johnson was saying, "we may well mourn. the death of our dear brother, and look upon it as an irreparable loss. Where will we find a man who was so generous in his contributions to the church, so devoted to his family; or who set a better example of the Christian life? In him we have lost a leader in every good work, a faithful friend, a dear brother, a strong pillar in the church, a champion of his race, a man whom we all loved and admired. Cut off in the prime of life, in the full tide of his usefulness, we mourn his departure and we rejoice that he has lived-we celebrate his virtues and we revere his memory."
The man outside dropped from his somewhat constrained position, and the puzzled expression on his face became even more pronounced. But he had heard the voice, though indistinctly, of the minister across the hall, and he went softly around the rear of the house and picking up a small box which lay it the yard, placed it under a. window, of the other room. Looking through the slats, he saw a woman dressed in deepest mourning. Her face was concealed by the heavy crepe veil that fell before it, but her form was shaken by convulsive sobs. Grouped around the room was an audience equally as large as the one across the hall, and the young Baptist minister was saying, with great unction:
"There are no words, my hearers, by which we can adequately express the sympathy we feel for this bereaved widow in this, her hour of deepest earthly sorrow. Our hearts go out to this beloved sister, whose mainstay has been cut off, and who has been left to tread the thorny path of life in loneliness and desolation. I know that if the departed can look down from that upper sphere which he now adorns, upon this scene of his late earthly career, no more painful thought could mar the celestial serenity of his happiness than the reflection that he had left behind him in inconsolable grief the companion of his earthly joys and sorrows. We feel for our sister; we commend her to the source of all comfort; we assure her of such friendly offices as are within our weak power. And we hope that in time the edge of her grief will lose its sharpness, and that she may feel resigned to the decree of Heaven, and find such consolation as a life of usefulness may yet have to offer her."
The two sermons came to an end almost simultaneously, and again the two audiences were led in prayer. While the eyes of the two Ministers were raised on high in supplication, and those of their hearers were piously turned to earth, the man on the outside, unable to restrain his curiosity longer, stepped down from his box,. came around to the front door, opened it, walked softly forward, and stopped by the casket, where he stood looking down-at the face it contained.
At that moment the two prayers came to an end, the eyes of the ministers sought a lower level, while those of the guests were raised, and they saw the stranger standing by the coffin. Some nervous women screamed, sev MR. TAYLOR'S FUNERAL 37 eral strong men turned pale, and there was a general movement that would probably have resulted in flight if there had been any out except by passing through the hall.
The man by the casket looked up with even greater wonderment than he had before displayed.
"Whose funeral is this, anyhow?" he asked, addressing himself to nobody in particular.
"Why," responded several voices in chorus, "it's your funeral!"
A light dawned on the newcomer, and he looked much relieved.
"There's some mistake here," he said, "or else if I'm dead I don't know it. I was certainly alive when I came in on the train from Buffalo about thirty minutes ago."
The drowning in Buffalo harbor of a man resembling Taylor had been, of course, a mere coincidence. It might be said, in passing, that Mr. Taylor never explained his prolonged absence very satisfactorily. He did tell a story, or rather a vague outline of a story, lacking in many of the corroborative details which establish truthfulness, about an accident and a hospital. As he is still a pillar in the Jerusalem Methodist church, and trying hard to live up to the standard set by his funeral sermons, it would be unbecoming to do more than suggest, in the same indefinite way, that when elderly men, who have been a little wild in their youth, are led by sudden temptation, when away from the restraining influences of home, to relapse for a time into the convivial habits of earlier days, there are, in all well-governed cities, institutions provided at the public expense, where they may go into retreat for a fixed period of time, of such length-say five or ten or twenty or thirty days-as the circumstances of each particular case may seem to require.