The Guardian of God's Acre, by Samuel Hopkins
From A Bench in Our
As far as the eye could apprehend him, he was palpably an outlander. No
such pink of perfection ever sprung from the simple soil of Our Square.
A hard pink it was, suggestive less of the flower than of enameled
metal. He was freshly shaved, freshly pressed, freshly anointed, and, as
he paced gallantly across my vision, I perceived him to be slightly
grizzled at the temples, but nevertheless of a vigorous and grim
youthfulness that was almost daunting. Not until he returned and stood
before me with his feet planted a little apart, giving an impression of
purposeful immovability to his wiry figure, did I note that his eyes
belied the general jauntiness of his personality. They were cold, direct
eyes, with a filmy appearance, rather like those of a morose and
self-centered turtle which had lived in our fountain until the day the
Rosser twins fell in, when it crawled out and emigrated.
"Nice day," said the stranger, shifting a patent-leathered foot out of a
"Very," I agreed. Finical over-accuracy about the weather is likely to
discourage a budding acquaintanceship.
"Have one?" He extended a gemmed cigarette-case, and when, removing my
pipe, I had declined in suitable terms, lighted up, himself. He then sat
down upon the dryest portion of the bench not occupied by my person.
"Whiplash win in the fi'th," he volunteered presently.
"Yes?" said I with a polite but spurious show of interest.
"Under a pull. Spread-eagled his field."
"Who is Whiplash, may I ask?"
"Oh, Gaw!" said the pink man, appalled. He searched my face
suspiciously. "A hoss," he stated at length, satisfied of my ignorance.
After several reflective puffs, the smoke of which insufficiently veiled
his furtive appraisal of myself, he tried again:
"They give O'Dowd a shade, last night."
"Indeed? Who did?"
"The sporting writers."
"As a testimonial?" I inquired, adding that a shade, whether of the lamp
or sun species seemed an unusual sort of gift.
My interlocutor groaned. He drew from the pocket of his gray-check
cutaway, purple and fine linen, the purple being an ornate and
indecipherable monogram, wherewith to wipe his troubled brow. Susan
Gluck's Orphan, who was playing down-wind, paused to inhale deeply and
with a beatific expression. Restoring the fragrant square to its
repository, the pink one essayed another conversational skirmish.
"The Reds copped again yesterday."
"If you are referring to the raid on Anarchist Headquarters in Avenue C,
I should have inferred that the Reds were copped, to use your term."
Curt and contemptuous laughter was his response. "Don't you ever read
the papers, down here?"
"Certainly," I retorted with some spirit, for the implied slur upon Our
Square stung me. "In fact, I was reading one of our local publications
when you inter—when you arrived. It contains some very
"Yeh?" said the hard, pink man politely.
"For example, in this issue I find the following apostrophe." I
proceeded to read aloud:
"Farewell, our dear one, we must part,
For thou hast gone to heavenly home,
While we below with aching heart
Must long for thee and ever moan."
"Swell stuff," commented the sharer of my bench, with determined
interest. "Poetry's a little out of my line, but I'm for it. Who
"It is signed 'Loving Father and 3 Sisters.' But the actual authorship
rests with the long gentleman in black whom you see leaning on the park
fence yonder. His name is Bartholomew Storrs and he is the elegiac or
mortuary or memorial laureate of Our Square."
This was said with intent to mortify the soul of my new acquaintance in
revenge for his previous display of erudition. The bewilderment in his
face told me that I had scored heavily. But he quickly rallied.
"Do I get you right?" he queried. "Does he write those hymns for other
folks to sign?"
"What does he do that for?"
"Money. He gets as high as five dollars per stanza."
"Some salesman!" My hard-faced companion regarded the lank figure
overhanging the fence with new respect. "Looks to me like the original
Gloom," he observed. "What's his grouch?"
"He must have a bum one!"
"He has a busy one. He expends a great amount of time and sorrow
repenting of our sins."
"Whose sins?" asked the other, opening wider his dull and weary eyes.
"Ours. His neighbors. Everybody in Our Square."
My interlocutor promptly and fitly put into words the feeling which had
long lurked within my consciousness, ashamed to express itself against a
monument of dismal pity such as Bartholomew Storrs. "He's got a nerve!"
Warming to him for his pithy analysis of character, I enlarged upon my
theme. "He rebukes MacLachan for past drunkenness. He mourns for
Schepstein, who occasionally helps out a friend at ten per cent, as a
usurer. He once accused old Madame Tallafferr of pride, but he'll never
do that again. He calls the Little Red Doctor, our local physician, to
account for profanity, and gets a fresh sample every time. Even against
the Bonnie Lassie, whose sculptures you can just see in that little
house near the corner"—I waved an illustrative hand—"he can quote
Scripture, as to graven images. We all revere and respect and hate him.
He's coming this way now."
"Good day, Dominie," said Bartholomew Storrs, as he passed, in such a
tone as a very superior angel might employ toward a particularly
"That frown," I explained to my companion, after returning the
salutation, "means that I failed to attend church yesterday."
But the hard, pink man had lost interest in Bartholomew. "Called you
'Dominie,' didn't he?" he remarked. "I thought I had you right. Heard of
you from a little red-headed ginger-box named Smith."
"You know the Little Red Doctor?"
"I met him," he replied evasively. "He told me to look you up. 'You talk
to the Dominie,' he says."
"I'm coming to that." He leaned forward to place a muscular and
confidential hand on my knee. "First, I'd like to do you a little
favor," he continued in his husky and intimate voice. "If you're looking
for some quick and easy money, I got a little tip that I'd like to pass
on to you."
"Evidently the Little Red Doctor told you that my mind was a tottering
ruin, which may be quite true; but if it's a matter of investing in the
Peruvian Gold, Rubber Tree, and Perpetual Motion Concession, I'm
"Forget it!" adjured the hard, pink man in a tone which secured my
silence and almost my confidence. "This is a hoss. Seven to one, and a
sure cop. I know hosses. I've owned 'em."
"Thank you, but I can't afford such luxuries as betting."
"You can't afford not to have something down on this if it's only a
shoestring. No? Oh—well!"
Again drawing the art-square from his pocket he lifted his pearl-gray
derby and dabbed despairingly at his brow. Catching the scent hot and
fresh, Susan Gluck's Orphan came dashing up-wind giving tongue, or
rather, nose, voluptuously.
"Mm-m-m! Snmmff!" inhaled the Orphan, wrinkling ecstatic nostrils.
"Mister, lemme smell it some more!"
Graciously the dispenser of fragrance waved his balm-laden handkerchief.
"Like it, kiddie?" he said.
"Oh, it's grand!" She stretched out her little grimy paws. "Please,
Mister," she entreated, "would you flop it over 'em, just once?"
The pink man tossed it to her. "Take it along and, when you get it all
snuffed up, give it back to the Dominie here for me."
"Oh, gracious!" said the Orphan, incredulous at this bounty. "Can I have
it till to-morrah?"
"Sure! What's the big idea for to-morrow?"
"I'm goin' to a funeral. I want it to cry in," said the Orphan
"A funeral?" I asked. "In Our Square? Whose?"
"My cousin Minnie. She's goin' to be buried in God's Acre, an' I'm
invited 'cause I'm a r'lation. She married a sporting gentleman named
Hines an' she died yesterday," said the precocious Orphan.
So Minnie Munn, pretty, blithe, life-loving Minnie, whose going had hurt
us so, had come back to Our Square, with all her love of life quenched.
She had promised that she would come back, in the little, hysterical,
defiant note she left under the door. Her father and mother must wait
and not worry. There are thousands of homes, I suppose, in which are
buried just such letters as Minnie's farewell to her parents;
rebellious, passionate, yearning, pitiful. Ah, well! The moth must break
its chrysalis. The flower must rend its bonds toward the light. Little
Minnie was "going on the stage." A garish and perilous stage it was,
whereon Innocence plays a part as sorry as it is brief. And now she was
making her exit, without applause. Memory brought back a picture of
Minnie as I had first seen her, a wee thing, blinking and smiling in the
arms of her Madonna-faced mother, on a bench in Our Square, and the
mother (who could not wait for the promised return—she has lain in
God's Acre these three years) crooning to her an unforgettable song,
"Why did I bring thee, Sweet
Into a world of sin?—
Into a world of wonder and doubt
With sorrows and snares for the little white feet—
Into a world whence the going out
Is as dark as the coming in!"
Old lips readily lend themselves to memory; I suppose I must have
repeated the final lines aloud, for the pink man said, wearily
"Very pretty. Something more in the local line?"
"Hardly." I smiled. Between Bartholomew Storr's elegies and William
Young's "Wish-makers' Town" stretches an infinite chasm.
"What's this—now—God's Acre the kid was talking about?" was his next
"An old local graveyard."
"Anything interesting?" he asked carelessly.
"If you're interested in that sort of thing. Are you an antiquary?"
"Sure!" he replied with such offhand promptitude that I was certain the
answer would have been the same had I asked him if he was a dromedary.
"Come along, then. I'll take you there."
To reach that little green space of peace amidst our turmoil of the
crowded, encroaching slums, we must pass the Bonnie Lassie's house,
where her tiny figurines, touched with the fire of her love and her
genius, which are perhaps one and the same, stand ever on guard, looking
out over Our Square from her windows. Judging by his appearance and
conversation, I should have supposed my companion to be as little
concerned with art as with, let us say, poetry or local antiquities. But
he stopped dead in his tracks, before the first window. Fingers that
were like steel claws buried themselves in my arm. The other
"What's that?" he muttered fiercely.
"That," to which he was pointing, was a pictorial bronze, the figure of
a girl, upright in a cockleshell boat, made of a rose-petal, her arms
outspread to the breeze that was bearing her out across sunlit ripples.
Beneath was the legend: "Far Ports." The face, eager, laughing,
passionate, adventurous, was the face of Minnie Munn. Therein the Bonnie
Lassie had been prophetess as well as poet and sculptress, for she had
finished the bronze before Minnie left us.
"That," I answered the strong, pink man, trying to shake loose his grip,
"is a sculpture by Cecily Willard, otherwise Mrs. Cyrus Staten."
"What'll she take for it?"
"It can't be bought." I spoke with authority, for the figurines that the
Bonnie Lassie sets in her window are not for sale, but for us of Our
Square, who love them.
"Anything can be bought," he retorted, with his quiet, hoarse
persuasiveness, "at a price. I've got the price, no matter what it is."
Suddenly I understood my pink and hard acquaintance. I understood that
stale look in his eyes. Tears do not bring that. Nothing brings it but
sleepless thoughts beyond the assuagement of tears. Behind such eyes the
heart is aching cold and the brain searing hot. Who should know better
than I, though the kindly years have brought their healing! But here was
a wound, raw and fresh and savage. I put my hand on his shoulder.
"What was little Minnie to you?" I asked, and answered myself. "You're
Hines. You're the man she married."
"Yes. I'm Chris Hines."
"You've brought her back to us," I said stupidly.
"She made me promise."
Strange how Our Square binds the heartstrings of those who have once
lived in it! To find it unendurable in life, to yearn back to it in the
hour of death! Many have known the experience. So our tiny God's Acre,
shrunk to a small fraction of human acreage through pressure of the
encroaching tenements, has filled up until now it has space but for few
more of the returning. Laws have been invoked and high and learned
courts appealed to for the jealously guarded right to sleep there, as
Minnie Munn was so soon to sleep beside her mother.
I told Hines that I would see the Bonnie Lassie about the statuette, and
led him on, through the nagged and echoing passage and the iron gate, to
the white-studded space of graves. The new excavation showed, brown
against the bright verdure. Above it stood the headstone of the Munns,
solemn and proud, the cost of a quarter-year's salary, at the pitiful
wage which little, broken Mr. Munn drew from his municipal clerkship.
Hines's elegant coat rippled on his chest, above what may have been a
shudder, as he looked about him.
"It's crowded," he muttered.
"We lie close, as we lived close, in Our Square. I am glad for her
father's sake that Minnie wished to come back."
"She said she couldn't rest peaceful anywhere else. She said she had
some sort of right to be here."
"The Munns belong to what we call the Inalienables in Our Square," said
I, and told him of the high court decision which secured to the
descendants of the original "churchyard membership," and to them alone,
the inalienable right to lie in God's Acre, provided, as in the ancient
charter, they had "died in honorable estate." I added: "Bartholomew
Storrs, as sexton, has constituted himself watchdog of our graves and
censor of our dead. He carried one case to the Supreme Court in an
attempt to keep an unhappy woman from sleeping in that pious company."
"That sour-faced prohibitionist?" growled Mr. Hines, employing what I
suspect to be the blackest anathema in his lexicon. "Is he the sexton?"
"The same. Our mortuary genius," I confirmed.
"She was a good girl, Min was," said Mr. Hines firmly, though, it might
appear, a trifle inconsequentially: "I don't care what they say. Anyway,
after I met up with her"; in which qualifying afterthought lay a whole
sorrowful and veiled history.
"What did they say about her, down here?" he asked jealously.
"Oh, there were rumors. They didn't reach her father."
"No: tell me," he persisted. "I gotta know."
Because Mr. Hines had already impressed himself upon me as one with whom
straight talk would serve best, I acceded.
"Bartholomew Storrs said that her feet took hold on hell."
Mr. Hines's face remained impassive. Only his hands worked slightly,
perhaps kneading an imaginary throat. I perceived him to be a person of
considerable and perhaps formidable self-control.
"Not that she hadn't her friends. The Bonnie Lassie would have stood by
her if she had come back, and little Mrs. Morse, and our Dr. Smith, and
MacLachan, who thought he had lost his own girl the same way, and—and
"And you, Dominie," said the hard, pink Mr. Hines.
"My dear sir, old men cannot afford harsh judgments. They are too near
their own time."
"Yeh?" said Mr. Hines absently. "I guess that's right." But his mind was
plainly elsewhere. "When would you say would be the best time to do
business with old Funeral-Clothes?" he asked after a thoughtful pause.
"You want to see Bartholomew Storrs?" I interpreted.
"Sure. I gotta deliver the death certificate to him if he runs the
graveyard, haven't I?"
"Such is the procedure, I believe."
"Besides," he added with a leer, "I want to get some of that weepy
poetry of his."
"Well; he'll sell it to you readily."
"I'll say he'll sell it to me," returned Mr. Hines with a grimness which
I failed to comprehend.
"Now is as good a time as any to catch him in his office." I pointed to
a sign at the farther end of the yard.
Mr. Hines seemed in no hurry to go. With his elegantly lacquered cane,
he picked at the sod, undecidedly. His chill, veiled eyes roved about
the open space. He lifted his pearl-gray derby, and, for lack of a
handkerchief, wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. Although the
May day was cool and brisk with wind, his knuckles glistened when they
descended. I began to suspect that, despite his stony self-command, Mr.
Hines's nerves were not all that they should be.
"Perhaps you'd like me to introduce you to Mr. Storrs," I hazarded.
The cold and filmy eyes gleamed with an instant's dim warmth. "Dominie,
you're a good guy," responded Mr. Hines. "If a dead cinch at ten to one,
all fruited up for next week, the kind of thing you don't hand on to
your own brother, would be any use to you—No? I'm off again," he
apologized. "Well—let's go."
We went. At the doorstep of Bartholomew Storrs's office he paused.
"This sexton-guy," he said anxiously, "he don't play the ponies, ever, I
"No more often than he commits murder or goes to sleep in church," I
"Yeh?" he answered, disheartened. "I gotta get to him some other way. On
the poetry—and that's out of my line."
"I don't quite see what your difficulty is."
"By what you tell me, it's easier to break into a swell Fifth Avenue
Club than into this place."
"Except for those having the vested right, as your wife has."
"And this sexton-guy handles the concession for—he's got the say-so,"
he corrected himself hastily—"on who goes in and who stays out. Is
"And he'd rather keep 'em out than let 'em in?"
"Bartholomew," I explained, "considers that the honor of God's Acre is
in his keeping. He has a fierce sort of jealousy about it, as if he had
a proprietary interest in the place."
"I get you!" Mr. Hines's corded throat worked painfully. "You don't
suppose the old goat would slip Min a blackball?" he gulped.
"How can he? As an 'Inalienable'—"
"Yeh; I know. But wasn't there something about a clean record? I'll tell
you, Dominie"—Mr. Hines's husky but assured voice trailed away into
a miserable, thick whisper—"as to what he said—about her feet taking
hold on hell—I guess there was a time—I guess about one more slip—I
guess I didn't run across her any too quick. But there never was a
straighter, truer girl than Min was with me. I gotta get her planted
right, Dominie. I gotta do it," he concluded with pathetic
"I see no difficulty," I assured him. "The charter specifies 'died in
honorable estate.' Matrimony is an honorable estate. How she lived
before that is between her and a gentler Judge than Bartholomew Storrs."
"Give her a straight course and a fair judge and I'll back Min to the
limit," said Mr. Hines so simply and loyally that no suggestion of
irreverence could attach to him.
Nevertheless, doubt was mingled with determination in his florid face as
he rang the bell. Bartholomew Storrs opened to us, himself. When he saw
me, he hastily pocketed a Rhyming Dictionary. I introduced my companion,
stating, by way of a favorable opening, that he was interested in
"Very pleased," said Bartholomew Storrs in his deep, lugubrious tones.
Mr. Hines nodded.
"Here's a tasty thing I just completed," continued the poet, and,
extending a benignant hand toward the visitor he intoned nasally:
"Together we have lived our life
Till thou hast gone on high.
But I will come to thee, dear Wife,
In the sweet bye-and-bye."
"That style five dollars," he said.
"You're on," barked Mr. Hines. "I'll take it."
"To be published, I suppose, on the first anniversary of death. Shall I
look after the insertion in the papers?" queried the obliging poet, who
split an advertising agent's percentage on memorial notices placed
"Sure. Got any more? I'd spend a hundred to do this right."
With a smile of astounded gratification, Bartholomew accepted the roll
of bills, fresh and crisp as the visitor himself. To do him justice, I
believe that his pleasure was due as much to the recognition of his
genius as to the stipend it had earned.
"Perhaps you'd like a special elegy to be read at the grave," he rumbled
eagerly. "When and where did the interment take place?"
The other glared at him in stony surprise. "It ain't taken place. It's
to-morrow. Ain't you on? I'm Hines."
A frown darkened the sexton's heavy features. He shook a reprehensive
head. "An unfortunate case," he boomed; "most unfortunate. I will not
conceal from you, Mr. Hines, that I have consulted our attorneys upon
this case, and unhappily—unhappily, I say—they hold that there is no
basis for exclusion provided the certificate is in form. You have it
Impassive and inscrutable, Mr. Hines tapped his breast-pocket.
The conscience of a responsible sexton being assuaged, Bartholomew's
expression mollified into that of the flattered poet.
"Such being the case," he pursued, "there can be no objection to the
reading of an elegy as part of the service. Who is to officiate?"
"The Reverend Doctor Hackett."
"He has retired these two years," said the sexton doubtfully. "He is
very old. His mind sometimes wanders."
"She wouldn't have any one else," asserted the hard, pink Mr. Hines.
"She was as particular about that as about being buried yonder." He
jerked his head toward the window.
"Very well. I will be at the grave. I always am. Trust me to guide the
reverend gentleman over any breach in his memory. Excuse me for a moment
while I look up my elegies."
"Say," said Mr. Hines in his hoarse, confidential croak, as the
poet-sexton retired, "this is dead easy. Why, the guy's on the make. For
sale. He'll stand for anything. Passing out this stuff for other folks
to sign! He's a crook!"
"Make no such mistake," I advised. "Bartholomew is as honest a man as
lives, in his own belief."
"Very likely. That's the worst kind," pronounced the expert Mr. Hines.
Further commentary was cut off by the return of the sexton-poet. "If you
will kindly give me the death certificate of the late lamented,"
"What becomes of it after I deliver it?" asked Mr. Hines.
"Read, attested, and filed officially."
"Any one else but you see it?"
"That's all right, then."
Hardly had Bartholomew Storrs glanced at the document received from Mr.
Hines than he lifted a stiffening face.
"What is this?" he challenged.
The official tapped the paper with a gaunt finger. "'Minna Merivale,
aged twenty-five,'" he read.
"That's the name she went by."
"Unmarried" read Bartholomew Storrs in a voice of doom.
In the sexton's eyes gleamed an unholy savagery of satisfaction. "Take
"Bury her somewhere else. Do not think that you can pollute the
"Bartholomew!" I broke in, stepping hastily in front of Mr. Hines, for I
had seen all the pink ebb out of his face, leaving it a dreadful sort of
gray; and I had no desire to be witness of a murder, however much I
might deem it justified.
"I'll handle him," said Mr. Hines steadily. "Now; you! You got my
hundred in your jeans, ain't you!"
"Bribery!" boomed the sexton. He drew out the roll of bills and let it
fall from his contaminated fingers.
"Sure! Bribery," railed the other. "What'd you think? Ain't it enough
for what I'm asking?" The two men glared at each other.
I broke the silence. "Exactly what are you asking, Mr. Hines?"
"File that"—he touched the document—"and forget it. Let Min rest out
there as my wife, like she ought to have been."
"Why didn't you make her your wife?" thundered the accuser.
Some invisible thing gripped the corded throat of Mr. Hines. "Couldn't,"
he gulped. "There was—another. She wouldn't divorce me."
"Your sin has found you out," declared the self-constituted judge of the
dead with a dismal sort of relish.
"Yeh? That's all right. I'll pay for it. But she's paid already."
"As she lived so she has died, in sin," the inexorable voice answered.
"Let her seek burial elsewhere."
Mr. Hines leaned forward. His expression and tone were passionless as
those of a statistician proffering a tabulation: his words were fit to
wring the heart of a stone.
"She's dead, ain't she?" he argued gently. "She can't hurt any one, can
she? 'Specially if they don't know."
Bartholomew Storrs made a gesture of repulsion.
"Well, who'll she hurt?" pursued the other, in his form of pure and
abstract reasoning. "Not her mother, I guess. Her mother's waiting for
her; that's what Min said when she was—was going. And her father'll be
on the other side of her. And that's all. Min never harmed anybody but
herself when she was alive. How's she going to do 'em any damage now,
just lying there, resting? Be reasonable, man!"
Be pitiful, oh, man! For there was a time not so long past when you,
with all your stern probity and your unwinking conscience, needed pity;
yes, and pleaded for it when the mind was out of control. Think back,
Bartholomew Storrs, to the day when you stood by another grave, close to
that which waits to-day for the weary sleeper—Bartholomew Storrs
rested, opened the door and stood by it, grimly waiting. Mr. Hines
turned to me.
"What is this thing, Dominie; a man or a snake? Will I kill it?"
"Bartholomew," I began. "When we—"
"Not a word from you, Dominie. My mind is made up."
"The girl is Isabel Munn's daughter."
I saw a tremor shake the gaunt frame.
"When we buried Isabel Munn, you came back in the night to weep at her
He thrust out a warding hand toward me.
"Why did you weep over Isabel Munn's grave, Bartholomew?"
"Speak no evil of the dead," he cried wildly.
"It is not in my mind. She was a good and pure woman. What would she
have been if she had listened to you?"
"What do you know? Who betrayed me?"
"You, yourself. When you came down with pneumonia after the burial, I
sat with you through a night of delirium."
Bartholomew Storrs bowed his head.
"My sin hath found me out," he groaned. "God knows I loved her, and—and
I hadn't the strength not to tell her. I'd have given up everything for
her, my hope of heaven, my—my—I 'd have given up my office and gone
away from God's Acre! And that was twenty years ago. I—I don't sleep o'
nights yet, for thinking."
"Well, you ain't the only one," said the dull voice of Mr. Hines.
"You're tempting me!" Bartholomew Storrs snarled at him. "You're trying
to make me false to my trust."
"Just to let her lie by her mother, like her mother would ask you if she
"Don't say it to me!" He beat his head with his clenched hand.
Recovering command of himself, he straightened up, taking a deep breath:
"I must be guided by my conscience and my God," he said professionally,
and I noted a more reverent intonation given to the former than to the
latter. A bad sign.
"Isabel Munn's daughter, Bartholomew," I reminded him.
Instead of replying he staggered out of the door. Through the window we
saw him, a moment later, posting down the street, bareheaded and
stony-eyed, like one spurred by tormenting thoughts.
"Will he do it, do you think?" queried the anxious-visaged Mr. Hines.
I shook my head in doubt. With a man like Bartholomew Storrs, one can
Old memories are restless companions for the old. So I found them that
night. But there is balm for sleeplessness in the leafy quiet of Our
Square. I went out to my bench, seeking it, and found an occupant
"We ain't the only ones that need a jab of dope, Dominie," said Mr.
Hines, hard and pink and hoarsely confidential as when I first saw him.
"No? Who else?" Though I suspected, of course.
"Old Gloom. He's over in the Acre."
"Did you meet him there? What did he say?"
"I ducked him. He never saw me. He was—well, I guess he was praying,"
said Mr. Hines shamefacedly.
"Praying? At the Munn grave?"
"That's it. Groaning and saying, 'A sign, O Lord! Vouchsafe thy servant
a sign!' Kept saying it over and over."
"For guidance to-morrow," I murmured. "Mr. Hines, I'm not sure that I
know Bartholomew Storrs's God. Nor can I tell what manner of sign he
might give, or with what meaning. But if I know my God, whom I believe
to be the true God, your Minnie is safe with him."
"Yeh? You're a good guy, Dominie," said Mr. Hines in his emotionless
I took him home with me to sleep. But we did not sleep. We smoked.
Minnie Munn's funeral morning dawned clear and fresh. No word came from
Bartholomew Storrs. I tried to find him, but without avail.
"We'll go through with it," said Mr. Hines quietly.
How small and insignificant seemed our tiny God's Acre, as the few
mourners crept into it behind Minnie Munn's body; the gravestones like
petty dots upon the teeming earth, dwarfed by the overshadowing
tenements, as if death were but an incident in the vast, unhasting,
continuous sweep of life, as indeed perhaps it is. Then the grandeur of
the funeral service, which links death to immortality, was bodied forth
in the aged minister's trembling voice, and by it the things which are
of life were dwarfed to nothingness. But my uneasy mind refused to be
bound by the words; it was concerned with Bartholomew Storrs, standing
grim, haggard, inscrutable, beside the grave, his eyes upturned and
waiting. Too well I knew for what he was waiting; his sign. So, too, did
Mr. Hines, still hard, still pink, still impeccably tailored, and still
clinging to his elegant lacquered cane, as he supported little, broken
Mr. Munn, very pathetic and decorous in full black, even to the gloves.
The sonorous beauty and simplicity of the rite suddenly checked,
faltered. Bartholomew Storrs leaned over anxiously to the minister. The
poor, gentle, worn-out old brain was groping now in semi-darkness,
through which shot a cross-ray of memory. The tremulous voice took on
new confidence, but the marrow of my spine turned icy as I heard the
fatally misplaced and confused words that followed:
"If any man know—know just and good cause why this woman—why this
Bartholomew Storrs's gaunt hand shot upward, high in air, outspread in
the gesture of forbiddance. His deep voice rang, overbearing the
stumbling accents of the clergyman.
"A sign! A sign from on High! O God, thou hast spoken through thy
servant to forefend a sore offense. Listen, ye people. This woman—"
He stopped as there rose, on the opposite side of the open grave another
figure, with hands and voice lifted to heaven in what must surely have
been the most ingenuous supplication that ever ascended to the throne of
Pity and Understanding. All the passion which, through the bitter hours,
had been repressed in the self-commanding soul of the hard and pink Mr.
Hines, swelled and cried aloud in his plea:
"O God! have a heart!"
Bartholomew Storrs's hand fell. His eyes faltered. His lips trembled. He
stood once more, agonized with doubt. And in that moment the old
minister came to his rightful senses.
"Peace, my friends," he commanded with authority. "Let no man disturb
the peace of the dead."
And, unwaveringly, he went on to the end of the service.
So little Minnie Munn rests beside the mother who waited for her. No
ghosts have risen to protest her presence there. The man who loved her
comes back to Our Square from time to time, at which times there are
fresh flowers on Minnie's mound, below the headstone reading: "Beloved
Wife of Christopher Hines." But the elegiac verse has never appeared. I
must record also the disappearance of that tiny bronze cockleshell,
outward bound for "Far Ports," from the Bonnie Lassie's window, though
Mr. Hines was wrong in his theory that it could be bought—like all else
—"at a price." By the way, I believe that he has modified that theory.
As for Bartholomew Storrs, he is prone to take the other side of the
Square when he sees me on my accustomed bench. In repose his face is as
grim as ever, but I have seen him smile at a child. Probably the weight
of our collective sins upon his conscience is less irksome, now that he
has a crime of his own to balance them. For forgery and falsification of
an official record is a real crime, which might send him to jail. But
even that grim and judicial God of his worship ought to welcome him into
heaven on the strength of it.
I believe that Bartholomew sleeps o' nights now.