Garman and Worse

by Alexander Kielland

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Chapter XXIII

Like all wise rulers, who feel that they ought to mark the epoch of their arrival at power with certain merciful actions, Morten had given permission to Per Karl to drive the hearse with the old blacks, which were, however, condemned to be shot on the following day.

The old coachman had got them into "funeral trim," as he said, and for three days had groomed them incessantly. The last night he had passed in the stable, so that they should not lie down and spoil their coats. They were therefore shining as they never shone before, when, at eleven o'clock on Saturday morning, they drew up with the hearse at the door.

There are three kinds of hearses, so that one has the option of driving to the churchyard just as one travels by rail—in a first, second, or third class carriage. Unless, indeed, one manages to quit life in such an abject state of poverty, that one has to get one's self carried on foot by one's friends. Consul Garman drove first class, in a carriage adorned with angels' heads and silver trappings. Per Karl sat under the black canopy, with crape round his hat, and looking with pride and sadness on his old blacks.

When the coffin, which was adorned with flowers and white drapery, was carried down from upstairs, Miss Cordsen stood at the foot of the staircase, with the servants assembled in a group behind her. The old lady folded her hands on her breast, and bowed low as they bore him past; she then went up to her room, and locked the door.

The ladies of the family followed in the close carriage with Uncle Richard, so as to be present at the ceremony in the church. Morten and Gabriel were in the open carriage. The whole staff of workmen be longing to the firm, and many of the townspeople who were not contented with following from the church to the grave, joined the procession on foot when the hearse set itself in motion. The spring sunshine was reflected from the silver trappings and angels' heads, and from the sleek and well-groomed horses, who were going on their last drive with a step full of pride and solemnity. It happened most awkwardly that Marianne had also to be buried that day. Martin had tried his best to prevent the contretemps, but the answer which he had received from the authorities was, that it was impossible to make an exception on his account; that the present arrangement would be most convenient for all parties, and particularly so, because it would save the clergyman a double journey to the cemetery; besides, there would be only the simple funeral service, and no address would be given.

Very well, then; since there would be no address the funeral would take place on Saturday, between. twelve and two.

Outside Begmand's cottage a group of young sea-faring men were assembling. There were a few relations from the town, and some of Marianne's acquaintances, such as Tom Robson, Torpander, and Woodlouse. Anders Begmand was not there: no amount of persuasion could prevent him from following the Consul's funeral.

At Marianne's funeral there was no undertaker to regulate the pace of the procession, and the young sailors stepped out briskly with the coffin. They thus managed to arrive at the town just as the Consul's remains were being carried into the church. Now, it would scarcely do for them to go through the town along the road leading to the cemetery, which was strewn with green leaves, and with lilac and laburnum blossoms, for Mr. Garman. There was, therefore, nothing for it but to wait until the service was over. It was hot work carrying a coffin, dressed in Sunday clothes, and they therefore put down their burden on the steps of a cottage hard by, whilst several of them took off their jackets in order to get a bit cooler.

On the opposite side of the street there was a small beerhouse. There were several of them to whom a pint of beer would have been very grateful, and who had the money in their pockets to pay for it; but perhaps it would hardly do.

The sailors stood talking together, and turning their quids in their mouths; dry in the throat were they, and opposite was the open door of the beerhouse, with jugs and bottles on the counter. It looked so cool and moist in there, and the street was perfectly empty, for all the world was crowding to the cemetery. At length one slunk across the street and sneaked in; two more followed. It seemed but too probable that all the bearers would give way to the same temptation; so Tom Robson went over to the group, and, putting a five-kroner note into the hand of the eldest, said, "There! you can drink that, but on condition that only two go in at a time."

The stipulation was agreed to without a murmur, and they took their turns in the most orderly way. A great many pints of beer go to a five-kroner note. Martin and Tom Robson resolutely turned their backs on the temptation. Woodlouse resisted it for a long time, but in the end he was obliged to give way. Torpander was sitting on a stone at the corner of the cottage, gazing at the coffin. His silk handkerchief had, in accordance with his earnest request, been allowed to follow Marianne to the grave; and on the lid of the coffin, over her heart, lay a garland which had cost him three kroner. This was the only adornment the coffin possessed, for most of the flowers from the West End had been bought by the towns people for the Consul's funeral. Marianne would otherwise have had plenty.

At length the people began to stream out of the church; those who were with Marianne had to wait till the main procession arrived at the cemetery. The seamen then, after moistening their palms in the usual way, went on with their burden with renewed vigour. There was no change from the five-kroner note.

No one could remember to have seen so long a funeral procession as that which followed the young Consul. It reached almost from the church door, to the gate of the cemetery, which lay in a distant part of the town. As they began to move slowly along the road, a whole crowd of hats came into view, hats of all kinds and shapes. There was Morten's new hat fresh from Paris, and the well-known broad brim of Dean Sparre. There were hats of the old chimney-pot shape, with scarcely any brim at all, while others had brims which hung over almost like the roof of a Swiss cottage. Some hats had a red tinge when they came into the glare of the sunshine, while others were brushed as smooth as velvet. Twenty years' changing fashions were blended together like a packet of "mixed drops." Only old Anders was still constant to his cap, which was covered with pitch as usual. A crowd of boys and children followed on both sides of the road, and the cemetery, which lay on the slope of the hill, was already thronged at the part near the Garmans' tomb.

At the entrance of the churchyard were planted two large flag-staves decorated with wreaths; the flags, which were at half-mast, hung down to the ground, waving gently in the light breeze. The town band was now allowed a moment's rest. The whole way from the church it had played incessantly an indescribable air; and it was only in the evening, when an account appeared in the papers, that the air was recognized as Chopin's Funeral March.

The precentor, with his choristers, "Satan's clerks," as he used to call them when he was annoyed, begun to intone a psalm. The coffin was lifted from the hearse, and carried through the cemetery, by the principal merchants of the town.

It was a magnificent spectacle, as the long funeral procession, with here and there a uniform, and its many flower-decorated banners, moved majestically along through the seething crowd of women and children, which stood closely packed on and among the graves on both sides of the path.

The funeral party now assembled round the grave, into which the coffin was lowered. The merchants who had carried it looked relieved when he was laid to rest; he had been an equally heavy burden to them both in death and in life. The singing ceased, and a silence ensued, as the clergyman ascended the little heap of earth which had been thrown up at the side of the grave.

During the latter part of the preparation of his discourse, the chaplain had felt keenly in what a difficult position he was placed in regard to the deceased. Since his engagement with Madeleine, his first duty was to be strictly impartial, and not to allow himself to be led into any flattering expressions, which would be quite out of place from the lips of one who had, in point of fact, become one of the family.

The dean had, in his discourse in the church, dwelt entirely on the merits of the deceased, as a fellow-citizen and as a good man of business, who had, almost like a father, found daily bread for hundreds, and who had shed happiness and prosperity all around him. The chaplain began his address as follows:—

"My sorrowing friends, when we look into this grave—six feet long and six feet deep, when we look at this dark coffin, when we think of this body which is going to decay, we naturally, my dear friends, say to ourselves, 'Here Hes a man of riches, of great riches.' But let us search the depths of our own hearts. For where is now the glitter of that wealth which dazzles the eyes of so many? Where is now the influence which to us, short-sighted mortals, appears to attach to earthly prosperity? Here in this dark tomb, six feet long and six feet deep, it is buried from our sight.

"Oh, my friends! let us learn the lesson which is taught by this silent tomb. Here all is finished, here is the end of all inequality, which is, after all, but the result of sin. Here, in the calm peace of the churchyard, they rest side by side, rich and poor, high and low, all alike before the majesty of death. All that is perishable on earth is swept aside like a used garment. Six feet of earth, that is all; it is the same for each one of us."

The gentle spring breeze breathed on the silk banners of the various guilds, lifting the heavy folds out from the staff, and making a glad rustle in the silk. And the same breeze also carried the words over the cemetery, to the old crones who were sitting on the tombstones, and the girls and women who were grouped along the slope. Yes, even to the far distant edge of the cemetery did the wind bear the eloquent discourse, so that the words could be distinctly heard at the grave in which Marianne was about to be laid. And those words about equality and the evanescence of worldly wealth, were indeed words of comfort for the poor, as well as for the rich. But those who stood by Marianne's grave scarcely listened to them—not even Torpander, who stood gazing intently at his solitary wreath, which lay on the simple coffin.

Woodlouse was guiltless of inattention, for he could not hear; but instead, he made his observations and gave vent to his philosophical reflections as was his wont.

There lay, in the gravelly heap which had been thrown up from the grave, a few bones and skulls. The story was, that that part of the churchyard, which was especially devoted to the poor, had been a burying-place at some former period, and the graves which had not been paid for for twenty years were, after the lapse of that time, again made use of, according to the rule and custom of the Church. It was thus no unusual thing to find coffins while a new grave was being dug, which fell to pieces under the spade. The bodies had been packed closely, and often several had been placed in the same grave.

It was, however, a scandal that the bones should be allowed to lie out in the light of day, until the new corpse came to be buried. Abraham the sexton had his orders, to take such bones at once to the house which was appointed for them, and which was a mere shed in one corner of the cemetery, where it was left to each skull to discover the bones belonging to it as best it might. But when any of the officials found fault with Abraham for his neglect, he would stand leaning on his spade, and cocking his red nose knowingly on one side, would answer with a smile, "Well, you see, what are we to do? The poor are just as much trouble in death as they are in life. They never will die like respectable people, one by one, now and again; but they all die at the same time, you see, and then come out here and want to get buried. Particularly all through the winter, when the ground is hard, and then in the early spring, what are we to do? It is really too bad. Yes, at those seasons they bring such shoals of children—ah, preserve us from the children!—yes, and grown-up people too, for that matter; and they all want graves just at the wrong time of year! They always choose the wrong time! It would not be so bad if one could only skimp the measurements a bit; but, you see, no one is so particular as the poor about the measurements. Six feet long and six feet deep—they will have it, never an inch less. And so, you see, it is not always so easy to get these bones out of sight in time for one of these pauper funerals. No, no! it is quite true what I say. The poor are just as much trouble in death as they are in life!"

There was once a new manager of the cemetery who wished to get rid of Abraham, who caused general indignation when he went tumbling about tipsy among the graves. But the dean said, "What is to become of the poor man? He will remain as a burden either to you or to me; and besides, he has been with us as long as I have been here, and I have always been able to bear with his sad infirmity. It would really go to my heart to drive him away." And so the public were content to keep Abraham as an evidence of Dean Sparre's kindness of heart.

As Woodlouse stood looking at the bones, he was absorbed in philosophical meditation, and he could not help thinking that there was a sort of air of defiance in the grin, with which one of the skulls returned his gaze. It struck him that this skull might perhaps be thinking how peaceful it was to rest here in the sacred earth of the churchyard. But surely it was just as peaceful over there in the house in which the bones were placed; and if neither church nor provost, chaplain nor sexton, gravedigger nor organist, bell-ringer nor acolyte, no, not one of them had got his due, it was quite impossible that it should be otherwise. And when he came to consider further, he thought that he could discover in these bare bones and these bleached skulls, an expression he knew only too well in life; a kind of cleared-out expression, which seems to cling to those who have not paid their debts.

Meanwhile Pastor Martens's sonorous voice echoed over the cemetery as he was approaching the end of his discourse. "The six feet of earth" was repeated again and again, like the refrain upon which a good composer will hang a whole Symphony; and each time it seemed to make a deeper impression. The account in the evening papers might perhaps be slightly exaggerated, when it said that not an eye was dry; but certain is it that many wept, and not only women, but men also. Some even of the merchants, who had carried the coffin, were seen using their pocket-handkerchiefs.

It was really an extraordinary address. Just at the commencement it had caused an uneasy feeling, when Martens began to speak about the great riches of the deceased. There was some apprehension lest he should make some ill-timed application of the parable of the camel and the needle's eye; but the speaker had just managed to say the right thing. There is nothing which gives the poor so much pleasure, as to hear how little power really belongs to earthly wealth, and how little there is to grudge when it comes to the last. And so this allusion to "the six feet of earth" had a good effect throughout.

When the funeral discourse was over, Abraham came forward with the box which was to hold the earth to be thrown on the coffin.

Struggling with his inmost feelings, the pastor seized the box, filled it with mould, and uncovered his head. Off in a moment came all the various hats, and just as many various heads were disclosed to view. Some were smooth, some were rough, some had long hair, and on others the hair was clipped as close as the top of a hair trunk, while here and there appeared a skull as smooth as a billiard ball.

The clergyman threw the earth into the grave, deeply moved, and almost mechanically, as if the task were too much for him. The loose mould could be heard rustling down on the flowers and silk ribbons. One more short and thrilling prayer was heard; the service was over, and the hats appeared again.

The bandsmen, who had been standing in a group among the mourners, keeping their instruments under their coats, so that they might not get cold, suddenly broke out into music, at a mysterious sign from the bandmaster. The effect was striking. Just as when a stone is thrown into the water, and the ripples roll outwards in an ever-widening circle, so did the mighty waves of sound drive back the bystanders in all directions, until there was quite an open place around the players. The undertaker turned the opportunity to advantage, and took his place at the head of the procession, which returned in the same order as it came.

At a short distance behind the musicians, came the precentor with his choristers. He was terribly annoyed by the band, and in a great state of anxiety, lest the sorrowing relatives of the deceased should not notice, how much extra trouble he had taken with the singing.

The undertaker, on the contrary, was extremely pleased with the band, which had made such a nice clear space for him, and when he got home to his wife he said, "Even if the drums of my ears are nearly broken, I must say I fully appreciate the effect of a brass band. Nothing can be more opportune, when one has to lead a procession through a large crowd at a respectable funeral."

At a short distance from the grave, the clergyman left the cortége and went in a different direction across the cemetery. As soon as he was out of sight of the crowd, he took a short cut over the graves, which in that part of the cemetery were low and overgrown with grass, and every now and then he held up his cassock, and stepped over one which lay in his path.

Abraham the sexton had got an extra lurch on, in honour of the grand funeral, and came stumbling along after the pastor, carrying the black box, which was the same that was used for all burials, without distinction.

When the pastor arrived at Marianne's grave, he found Anders Begmand and some others from the West End, who had already been in the Consul's procession. The chaplain took off his hat and wiped his brow, as he stood looking round for Abraham. The others also uncovered their heads. At length Abraham came up, and the three handfuls of earth fell, hurriedly and mechanically, on the simple coffin. "Of earth thou art, to earth thou shalt return, and from the earth thou shalt rise again. Amen."

The pastor went scrambling along farther over the graves. There were still some other poor people to be buried, and it was getting late.


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