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no longer a doubt upon the subject-she, whom I had often thought never would die, was dead, returned to the brick earth from which she was formed. 'Tis astonishing to observe the fortitude that some persons can call in to their aid under the most trying of earthly trials! It must have been quite refreshing (yes, that's the word) for any one giving way to affliction to have beheld the placidity of countenance that was preserved by myself under the announcement of the bereavement of my eldest aunt: it was neither Stoical nor any other ical philosophy that bound me; it was the mental firmness of a great man struggling to release himself from beneath an avalanche of wo! Grief I had, but it was of that description that either has not overtaken or is said to be
past all show.” Many persons doubtless have observed how little the convenience of the living is attended to by some disagreeable people about to put off “this mortal coil,” as far as regards the time and season most befitting, and a very favorite time for “fitting” is on the eve of some great festival: for instance, the 11th of August, the 30th of September, or the day before the Derby. Upon this occasion it wanted but three days to the first of October, when I stood engaged to a neighbouring Country Squire to assist in slaying partridges, hares, rabbits, &c. in general, and pheasants in particular. Here was a dilemma! My Aunt Rumtifuss was dead, and on reaching home I should certainly find a black-edged circular “ making assurance doubly sure," and inviting me to the funeral. What was to be done ? With a firmness and presence of mind that would perhaps have done honor to a better cause, I at once determined not to know a word about the matter, nor to return home till after the battue at the Squire's; and therefore, slipping out of the town by the most unfrequented paths, “sacred to solitude and sorrow," I avoided any further “damnable iteration” of the melancholy fact, or any further witnesses to my knowledge of it. I felt that I had outdone myself, the plan was so clever, so diplomatic. What right had any person to say that up to a certain date I might not regard the matter apocryphall One little further arrangement it was necessary to give attention to. How was I off for mourning ? Every one has a pair of black trousers, black socks, and black shoes......good. Now for a waistcoat: had I a black one? yes ! no, 'twas invisible green; but it would do with the coat buttoned up close... ... Very good. Now the coat:-aye there was the rub; people without complexions, i. e. merely having a hueless hide or pelt over their faces, don't look well in black. This was my case, and therefore I had never patronised this, as my dear aunt used to say, “ the genteelest of all colors." Still I had a garment of that die, inherited from an elder brother who died abroad, in which I had performed two or three funerals, besides lending it out to others who had expressed a wish in my hearing to pay proper respect to some dear departed friend whose melancholy exit had not reached them in time to make up regular mourning. There was a leetle grease upon the collar, but that could be taken off ; two or three buttons must bę new covered ; a mere trifle: it was a shade too long in the waist and too short in the arms for the present mode; but the latter defect could be partly remedied by taking out under the skirts sufficient for new cuffs, and then with white wristbands and the black kids I should look as Jaqueslike as a dutiful nevy should do. These little preparations having been
attended to, on the morning of the first of October I appeared at the Squire's breakfast-table, and it was a great relief to me to find that the news of "the melancholy event” had not circulated. The day's sport was glorious; and after dinner, when the deeds done in the field by each man's gun were given in, mine stood at the top of the list ; and a spare gentleman, looking very full of blue pill, whose Purdey had gone off once or twice rayther prematurely in the morning, and who had bagged a large retriever and considerably damaged two gamekeeper's assistants, and laid claim to a whole pheasant, although its head went one way and its body and limbs in various directions (five or six other persovs, as he justly observed, having fired at it who had no business to do so), intimated a very strong desire, could the thing be effected, to come down very handsomely, an' I would exchange what he was pleased to term my iron nerves, exuberant spirits, and antibilious appearance for his corporeal infirmities. “ Hear! Hear !” roared the Squire, and one and all declared they had never seen me in such high feather before. Poor purblind mortals ! through the mystification of my wit and our host's wine they could not discern in this the workings of “ a rooted sorrow:” but that it was sorrow, which, like a mole, was working unseen and throwing up the best of the soil to the surface, shade of Shakspeare bear me witness.
“ Sorrow breaks seasons and reposing hours,
And makes the night morning.” Here was a case in point, for it was very nearly 6 A. M. before I left the Squire's hospitable doors, and solicited admission within my own, into which having entered, the expected “ Despatch” presented itself, veneered with sable, and locked with a seal of the same hue, on which appeared a delicate taper hand (certainly not grim Death's cold paw) holding the identical model from which the spire of the Church in Langham Place was built, and threatening the last " flare up" of a short six (very emblamatical of my aunt's departure), and communi. cating by means of a motto the astounding fact not otherwise recorded, that “ Death extinguishes all.” On looking over the other billets with which the table was strewed, and not finding any prior engagement," my mind was made up that I would attend, not only for the express purpose of assisting in the funeral rites about to be paid to my venerable relative, but that I might be present for the first time in my life at “ The Reading of the Will”—to see how like the reality might be to Wilkie's picture, and whether the same moral lessons might be read in the faces of the living as from the poetical fancy of the painter. Well, the morning at length dawned when the mortal remains of a very distinguished female of the Rumtifuss Family were to be placed in the tomb, beside the dusty relics of her late husband, whom for thirty and odd years (whilst his living wife) she had never ceased to torment, and whose loss for now more than ten years (as his disconsolate widow) she had never ceased to bewail.
The programme in the “circular announced that “the funeral baked meats would be “furnished forth” at eleven-at meridian le cortège lugubre would move on.
I arrived early, and rode into the yard at the back of the house, the scene of much fun and frolic in my boyish days; all was still, save the
rattling of the chains by which the long-tailed blacks hired for the occasion were fastened to their stalls; and looking into the stable, a very suspicious brindled bull-terrier informed me, in a deep sepulchral growl, that the places there were all taken, and that strangers were not admitted. There was no serving. man or boy to be seen; so, passing on to a loose box untenanted, I turned my pony in, shut the door, and surveyed the premises. It was what carmen and sweeps call a “ lovely morning." A patriarchal goat, reclining upon some litter in the sun, was chewing the cud, and taking it easy ; an old hen was busily employed near the same spot in preparing breakfast for one biliouslooking chicken, the last of her callow brood ; whilst several sparrows were exhibiting their amorous frolics upon the very top of the plumed hearse, which occupied in sober sadness the centre of the court.
I now determined “ to walk in.” To get to the front of the house it was necessary to pass through a sort of alley, and having entered the
saw protruding from the door-way of the servants' hall (performing very graceful evolutions, by some termed kicks) the lower extremity of a human leg, which I guessed to be the property of a female, from having at the end of it a very pretty foot tightly laced in a real Denmark satin boot, finished off with a tassel ; and stealing stealthily along to get a better view (for I'm exceedingly particular about feet and ancles), I heard a voice, no doubt emitted from the trunk to which the said leg belonged, articulate, “ Now don't be sich a fool, Sprunk, don't-Oh dear! what would my old missus The sound of two hearty smacks from the lips of, and one (a rattler) upon the jowl of the offending Sprunk, followed by a chorus of laughter from other inmates of the hall, prevented pretty Abigail informing, by surmise at least, what sord of words or actions old Mrs. Rumtifuss would have bestowed had she witnessed the performance. Passing along, and taking a bird's-eye view through the windows and the open door, time enough was allowed me to mark the scene. On the old oak table was spread a plentiful supply of viands, with evident signs that the onslaught for the present was suspended, and Sprunk and his compades (three in number), whom it is necessary to inform my readers were, as Dr. Young has described them, part of
“ That sable tribe that live upon the dead,
By letting out their persons by the hour
To mimic sorrow when the heart's not sad," had here mingled with some of the domestics of the deceased, and at the moment alluded to were disposed as follows :-Peace having been ratified between Sprunk and the fair Abigail, in return for favors “ sweet and precious,” he was now under leave gratuitously bestowing
dancing lesson at one end of the room, and as the professor and his agile pupil flourished in a pas de Rigaudon, the bright gamboge of his patent tops in their nervous gyrations rather killed (as ladies say when one color in dress is too strong for another) the verd antique of the Denmark satins. One of his companions, apparently the eldest of the gang, who generally did“ mute” when a job required it, was quietly rehearsing his character by the fire-side with a long pipe in his mouth ; whilst the other, the youngest of the trio, having
upon her a
first decorated Abigail's fellow-sarvant's head with his own hat full mounted with two yards of crape, had placed her upon his knee that she might catch more perfectly the dulcet notes of a Jew's harp upon which he flattered himself he could discourse sweet music. The old lady's foot-boy, in black short smalls and worsted hose, with a pair of legs evidently intended for a Turkey poult (an elève of my late aunt's, she having taught him to read, write, and cipher), was gratefully preserving her memory for a time, by giving a very spirited profile of his late mistress with a cinder on the wall, having previously written in German text over the portrait the words “ old warmin.” The smoke-dried face of an old nurse, peeping in through the kitchen door, occupied the back ground, and completed the picture of the cuisine departement in the “house of mourning."
Arriving at the front door I pulled the bell, and, not receiving any answer to my summons, pursued the independent course I had hitherto adopted, and in two minutes, having done by my coat and hat as Dr. Pangloss did by his “gold-headed cane and wig," completed my toilet by combing my hair the wrong way with my fingers. This finishing touch is now perfectly established in good society on entering a room by those who are privileged not to wear a wig, and a slight hem of satisfaction announced to myself that I was ready for anything. But how dreadfully silent! how obscure the light! There were a great many relatives nearer and dearer than myself in the house somewhere, but there was neither signs nor sounds of the living. The late mistress of the mansion still beneath the roof in the icy folds of Death !-had the guests all followed suit? Whither should I Oh ! there is the dining-room door ajar, I'll just peep in. The windows were closed, and the curtains drawn, but a gleam of light forced its way through just sufficient for me to perceive, as soon as the focus of my eye was set to the “ dark obscure,” the black velvet pall with its silver fringe hanging in graceful folds over the leaden box which was intended to cheat the earth-worms of their prey, and to prevent the waters under the earth from penetrating the hide of Mrs. Rumtifuss. I stood (with my head inside the room and the rest of my body outside) gazing silently upon the memento mori. Ha! what sound is that resembling laughter ? gentle and feminine it is true...... but laughter. Oh! some truly attached relative, who has stolen from the unfeeling herd to enjoy the luxury of wo, and to vent in quiet her unfeigned sorrow and pious tears over the last remains, and, having under-rated the strength of her sensibilities, is becoming hysterical. How fortunate that I had stayed ! I could find my way to the pump in the dark; at all events it would be as well to be prepared should the mourner really need assistance. But hush ! bless me that laugh is not hysterical, nor altogether feminine, and it has positively a double echo, sharp and short ; and then followed in an audible whisper, “ For Heaven's sake, Tom, not so loud : Charlotte, do be quiet; I'm sure some of them will hear us.' With all my deep knowledge of the workings of the human heart, I was forced to feel that my first surmises were wrong. How very shocking in the “ house of mourning !"
“ This way if you please, Sir," said a “ walk-up-Ladies-andGentleman sort of man hired for the day and powdered for the
occasion, who now made his appearance, stepping noiseless as Time across the hall, and clapping his paw upon the handle of the drawingroom door, requested the honor of my name, which being put into possession of, he proceeded quietly to open the portal, and announced with great propriety of tone and gesture Mr. Peter Chisel. The lady chosen to perform the honors of the house vice Mrs. Rumtifuss deceased was a very near relative of the “ dear departed,” a buxom jolly dame, who had stood unflinchingly the heats and chills of our variable climate for more than half a century, yet now she personified a “ battalion of sorrows :" her “countenance was sicklied o'er with the pale cast a powder-puff: she had moreover parboiled her eyes, and“ turned the water on,
so that each visitor, on being received with funereal honors, had not to wait for a becoming quantity of tears being pumped up in the usual way, but there they were sparkling in all purity at the fountain or river hend, keeping time in their descent with the graceful courtesy, giving evidence of " such a heart !” and pleading more eloquently than words. She approached like a sleep-walker towards me, and, having gone through the ceremony last described, waved me to an unoccupied chair, whither I gladly retreated to count the troops of friends and relatives who were assembled, the last moiety of which crowd (three in number) were now gliding through the half-opened door in single files, and whom I immediately recognised as my cousin Tom and his two sisters, the very party who I had heard rehearsing "the laughing chorus," but now with such propriety of deportment they must have come through the Cave of Trophonius. Now it was indeed solemn-very. The silence approached nearer perfection than I had deemed possible, and the light of the room nearer to darkness than I thought agreeable ; but I was a novice; a deep-drawn sigh would occasionally be heard to mix with the baser particles of the circumambient air, and the short notes of an old cough, the long-tried bosom friend of some of the elders, would at intervals disturb the monotonous stillness. This would have been too much for flesh and blood to endure had not Lawyer Crabtree, who had nothing to do with the grief department, nor indeed anything to do till after the last rites should be performed, most considerately and with perfect Christian forethought somewhat succeeded in allaying the highly-excited feelings of the mourners, by performing the “ Dead March in Saul upon a pair of new shoes as he paced to and fro at one end of the room.
The man of powder now made a leg, and telegraphed the Niobe, who answered the private signal, and we were marched into an adjoining apartment prepared only for the living. The wand of Ariel must have been in the possession of some of the party; or could it be the various viands that were spread in great profusion ? I will not take upon me to determine. Be it as it may, no sooner did the first knife and fork tick against the china, than their mouths were opened and their tongues loosened, and in the general roar which ensued, sometimes voices male and female, recommending, soliciting, or complimenting, were predominant, and sometimes the clatter of glass, porcelain, and hardware triumphed over the Dutch concert. Sorrow is dry work, and Port, Madeira, and even Barclay and Perkins, had a great run; and before some of the old-fashioned people were quite prepared, it was announced