This distressed me more than I can tell, for I could not but feel that it was a mistake. I was sure that the effect would be deleterious upon my poor departed friend. Thompson--the expressman's name was Thompson, as I found out in the course of the night--now went poking around his car, stopping up whatever stray cracks he could find, remarking that it didn't make any difference what kind of a night it was outside, he calculated to make us comfortable, anyway. I said nothing, but I believed he was not choosing the right way. Meantime he was humming to himself just as before; and meantime, too, the stove was getting hotter and hotter, and the place closer and closer. I felt myself growing pale and qualmish, but grieved in silence and said nothing.
Soon I noticed that the "Sweet By and By" was gradually fading out; next it ceased altogether, and there was an ominous stillness. After a few moments Thompson said,
"Pfew! I reckon it ain't no cinnamon 't I've loaded up thish-yer stove with!"
He gasped once or twice, then moved toward the cof--gun-box, stood over that Limburger cheese part of a moment, then came back and sat down near me, looking a good deal impressed. After a contemplative pause, he said, indicating the box with a gesture,
"Friend of yourn?"
"Yes," I said with a sigh.
"He's pretty ripe, ain't he!"
Nothing further was said for perhaps a couple of minutes, each being busy with his own thoughts; then Thompson said, in a low, awed voice,
"Sometimes it's uncertain whether they're really gone or not,--seem gone, you know--body warm, joints limber--and so, although you think they're gone, you don't really know. I've had cases in my car. It's perfectly awful, becuz you don't know what minute they'll rise up and look at you!" Then, after a pause, and slightly lifting his elbow toward the box,-- "But he ain't in no trance! No, sir, I go bail for him!"
We sat some time, in meditative silence, listening to the wind and the roar of the train; then Thompson said, with a good deal of feeling,
"Well-a-well, we've all got to go, they ain't no getting around it. Man that is born of woman is of few days and far between, as Scriptur' says. Yes, you look at it any way you want to, it's awful solemn and cur'us: they ain't nobody can get around it; all's got to go--just everybody, as you may say. One day you're hearty and strong"--here he scrambled to his feet and broke a pane and stretched his nose out at it a moment or two, then sat down again while I struggled up and thrust my nose out at the same place, and this we kept on doing every now and then--" and next day he's cut down like the grass, and the places which knowed him then knows him no more forever, as Scriptur' says. Yes'ndeedy, it's awful solemn and cur'us; but we've all got to go, one time or another; they ain't no getting around it."
There was another long pause; then,--
"What did he die of?"
I said I didn't know.
"How long has he ben dead?"
It seemed judicious to enlarge the facts to fit the probabilities; so I said,
"Two or three days."
But it did no good; for Thompson received it with an injured look which plainly said, "Two or three years, you mean." Then he went right along, placidly ignoring my statement, and gave his views at considerable length upon the unwisdom of putting off burials too long. Then he lounged off toward the box, stood a moment, then came back on a sharp trot and visited the broken pane, observing,
"'Twould 'a' ben a dum sight better, all around, if they'd started him along last summer."
Thompson sat down and buried his face in his red silk handkerchief, and began to slowly sway and rock his body like one who is doing his best to endure the almost unendurable. By this time the fragrance--if you may call it fragrance--was just about suffocating, as near as you can come at it. Thompson's face was turning gray; I knew mine hadn't any color left in it. By and by Thompson rested his forehead in his left hand, with his elbow on his knee, and sort of waved his red handkerchief towards the box with his other hand, and said,--
"I've carried a many a one of 'em,--some of 'em considerable overdue, too,--but, lordy, he just lays over 'em all!--and does it easy Cap., they was heliotrope to HIM!"
This recognition of my poor friend gratified me, in spite of the sad circumstances, because it had so much the sound of a compliment.