The Common Lot
THE COMMON LOT
AUTHOR OF "THE WEB OF LIFE," "THIS REAL WORLD," ETC.
THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
LONDON: MACMILLAN & CO., LTD.
All rights reserved
BY THE MACMILLAN COMPANY.
Set up and electrotyped. Published September, 1904. Reprinted
J. B. Cushing & Co.—Berwick & Smith Co.
Norwood, Mass, U.S.A.
E. H. A.
M. T. A.
THE COMMON LOT
From time to time the door opened to admit some tardyperson. Then the May sunlight without flooded the dim,long hall with a sudden radiance, even to the arched recessin the rear, where the coffin was placed. The late-comerssank into the crowd of black-coated men, who filled thehall to the broad stairs. Most of these were plainlydressed, with thick, grizzled beards and lined faces: theywere old hands from the Bridge Works on the West Side,where they had worked many years for Powers Jackson.In the parlors at the left of the hall there were morewomen than men, and more fashionable clothes than inthe hall. But the faces were scarcely less rugged andlined; for these friends of the old man who lay in thecoffin were mostly life-worn and gnarled, like himself.Their luxuries had not sufficed to hide the scars of thebattles they had waged with fortune.
When the minister ceased praying, the men and thewomen in the warm, flower-scented rooms movedgratefully, trying to get easier positions for their crampedbodies. Some members of a church choir, stationed atthe landing on the stairs, began to sing. Once more thedoor opened silently in the stealthy hands of theundertaker, and this time it remained open for several seconds.A woman entered, dressed in fashionable widow's mourning.She moved deliberately, as if she realized exactlythe full effect of her entrance at that moment among allthese heated, tired people. The men crowded in thehall made way for her instinctively, so that she mightenter the dining-room, to the right of the coffin, wherethe family and a few intimate friends of the dead manwere seated. Here, a young man, the nephew of PowersJackson, rose and surrendered his chair to the prettywidow, whispering:—
"Take this, Mrs. Phillips! I am afraid there is nothinginside."
She took his place by the door with a little deprecatorysmile, which said many things at the same time: "I amvery late, I know; but I really couldn't help it! Youwill forgive me, won't you?"
And also: "You have come to be a handsome youngman! When I saw you last you were only a raw boy,just out of college! Now we must reckon with you, asthe old man's heir,—the heir of so much money!"
Then again: "It is a long time since we met over thereacross the sea. And I have had my sorrows, too!"
All this her face seemed to speak swiftly, especially tothe young man, whose attention she had quite distracted,as indeed she had disturbed every one in the other roomsby her progress through the hall. By the time she hadsettled herself, and made a first survey of the scene, thehymn had come to an end, and the minister's deep voicebroke forth in the words of ancient promise, "I am theResurrection and the Life"...
At this note of triumph the pretty widow's interruptionwas forgotten. Something new stirred in the wearyfaces of those standing in the hall, touching each oneaccording to his soul, vibrating in his heart with ameaning personal to him, to her, quite apart from any feelingthat they might have for their old friend, in the hope forwhose immortality it had been spoken....
"I am the Resurrection and the Life" ... "yet inmy flesh shall I see God"...
The words fell fatefully into the close rooms. Theyoung man who had given his chair to Mrs. Phillipsunconsciously threw back his head and raised his eyesfrom the floor, as though he were following some point oflight which had burst into sight above his head. Hisgaze swept over his mother's large, inexpressivecountenance, his cousin Everett's sharp features, the solemn,blank faces of the other mourners in the room. It restedon the face of a young woman, who was seated on theother side of the little room, almost hidden by the rosesand the lilies that were banked on the table between them.She, too, had raised her face at the triumphant prophecy,and was seeing something beyond the walls of the room,beyond the reach of the man's eyes. Her lips had partedin a little sigh of wonder; her blue eyes were filled withunwept tears. The young man's attention was arrestedby those eyes and trembling lips, and he forgot thefeeling that the minister's words had roused, in suddenapprehension of the girl's beauty and tenderness. Hehad discovered the face in a moment of its finestillumination, excited by a vague yet pure emotion, so that itbecame all at once more than it had ever promised.
The tears trembled at the eyelids, then droppedunnoticed to the face. The young man looked awayhastily, with an uncomfortable feeling in beholding allthis emotion. He could not see why Helen Spellmanshould take his uncle's death so much to heart, althoughthe old man had always been kind to her and to hermother. She had come to the house a great deal, forher mother and his uncle had been life-long friends, andthe old man loved to have the girl about his home. Yethe did not feel his uncle's death that way; he wonderedwhether he ought to be affected by it as Helen was. Hewas certainly much nearer to the dead man than she,—hisnephew, the son of his sister Amelia, who had kepthis house all the many years of her widowhood. And—hewas aware that people were in the habit of sayingit—he was his favorite relative, the one who wouldinherit the better part of the property. This last reflectionset his mind to speculating on the impending change inhis own world,—that new future which he pleasantlydreamed might bring him nearer to her. For the lastfew days, ever since the doctors had given up all hope ofthe old man's recovery, he had not been able to keep hisimagination from wandering in the fields of this strange,delightful change in his affairs, which was so near athand....
"There is a natural body," so the minister was sayingsolemnly, "and there is a spiritual body.... For thiscorruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortalmust put on immortality.".....
The young man tried to curb his imagination, to feelthe significance of the fact before him in some other waythan as it might affect his own material fate. His eyesrested on the great coffin with its load of cut flowers,and he thought of the silent face that lay therein, andwondered. But the state of death was inexplicable to him.
When the minister began his remarks about the deadman's personality, the tired people roused themselves andtheir wandering thoughts came back to their commonearth. What could he say on this delicate theme? Thesubject was full of thorns! Powers Jackson had notbeen a bad man, take his life all in all, but he had beenaccused, justly, of some ruthless, selfish acts. He hadforced his way, and he had not been nice about it. Hisprivate morality, also, had never quite satisfied the idealsof his neighbors, and he could not be called, in any senseof the word known to the officiating minister, a religious man.
Yet there was scarcely a person present to whomPowers Jackson had not done in the course of his lifesome kind and generous act. Each one in his heart knewthe dead man to have been good and human, and forgavehim his sins, public and private. What did it matter toold Jim Ryan, the office porter, who was standing in thecorner with his son and grandson, whether PowersJackson had or had not conspired with certain other men tosecure illegally a large grant of Texas land! He and hisfamily had lived in the sun of the dead man's kindness.So it went with the others.
While the minister was saying what every one agreedto in his heart,—that their dead friend was a man oflarge stature, big in heart as in deed, strong for good asfor evil,—his nephew's thoughts kept returning to thatglowing, personal matter,—what did it all mean to him?Of course, his uncle had been good to him, had givenhim the best kind of an education and training in hisprofession; his mother's comfort and his own nurturewere due to this uncle. But now the old man was aboutto give him the largest gift of all,—freedom for hiswhole lifetime, freedom to do with himself what hepleased, freedom first of all to leave this dull, dirtycity, to flee to those other more sympathetic parts ofthe earth which he knew so well how to enjoy!...
The pretty widow in the chair beside him fidgeted.She was exceedingly uncomfortable in the close, stuffyroom, and the minister's skilful words roused merely awicked sense of irony in her. She could have told thereverend doctor a thing or two about old Powers! Therewere current in her set stories about the man whichwould not have tallied altogether with his appreciativeremarks. She had seen him at close range, and he was aman, like the others. She threw back her jacket, revealingan attractive neck and bust. During the service shehad already scanned the faces of most of those in therooms, and, with great rapidity, had cast up mentallytheir score with the dead. This handsome young nephewwas the only one of them all that counted in her ownestimation. What would he do with the old fellow'smoney? She threw a speculative, appreciative look athim.
Across the room the girl's face had settled into soberthought, the tears drying on her cheeks where they hadfallen. With that glorious promise of Life Everlastingstill reverberating in her soul, she felt that the onlyreal Life which poor human beings might know was thatlife of the "spiritual body," the life of the good, whichis all one and alike! To her, Powers Jackson wassimply a good man, the best of men. For she had knownhim all her life, and had seen nothing but good in him.She loved him, and she knew that he could not be evil!
Finally, the minister rounded out his thought andcame to the end of his remarks. The singers on thestairs began to chant softly, "Now, O Lord, let thyservant depart in peace!" And the tired faces of themourners relaxed from their tense seriousness.Somehow, the crisis of their emotion had been reached andpassed. Comforted and reassured, they were about toleave this house of mourning. An old man, childless, awidower of many years, who had done his work successfullyin this world, and reaped the rewards of it,—whatcan any one feel for his death but a solemn sense ofmystery and peace! Perhaps to one only, the girl hiddenbehind the lilies and the roses in the dining-room, wasit a matter of keen, personal grief. He had left herworld,—he who had stroked her head and kissed her,who had loved her as a father might love her, who hadalways smiled when she had touched him.
On the sidewalk outside the people gathered in littleknots, speaking in subdued tones to one another, yetluxuriating in the riotous spring air. Then they movedaway slowly. After the house was nearly emptied,those mourners who had been in the dining-room appeared,to take carriages for the cemetery. Mrs. Phillipscame first, talking to young Jackson Hart. She wassaying:—
"The service was beautiful. It was all quite what thedear old gentleman would have liked, and such goodtaste,—that was your part,