Even this seemed a doubtful attention, to his wife, but she offered no objection, for it was plain that he had a quite honest and simple-hearted desire to do the friendly and honourable thing by these forlorn poor relics which could command no hospitality in this far off land of strangers but his. He draped the flag about the baskets, put some crape on the door-knob, and said with satisfaction:
"There--he is as comfortable, now, as we can make him in the circumstances. Except--yes, we must strain a point there--one must do as one would wish to be done by--he must have it."
"Have what, dear?"
The wife felt that the house-front was standing about all it could well stand, in that way; the prospect of another stunning decoration of that nature distressed her, and she wished the thing had not occurred to him.. She said, hesitatingly:
"But I thought such an honour as that wasn't allowed to any but very very near relations, who--"
"Right, you are quite right, my lady, perfectly right; but there aren't any nearer relatives than relatives by usurpation. We cannot avoid it; we are slaves of aristocratic custom and must submit."
The hatchments were unnecessarily generous, each being as large as a blanket, and they were unnecessarily volcanic, too, as to variety and violence of color, but they pleased the earl's barbaric eye, and they satisfied his taste for symmetry and completeness, too, for they left no waste room to speak of on the house-front.
Lady Rossmore and her daughter assisted at the sitting-up till near midnight, and helped the gentlemen to consider what ought to be done next with the remains. Rossmore thought they ought to be sent home with a committee and resolutions,--at once. But the wife was doubtful. She said:
"Would you send all of the baskets?"
"Oh, yes, all."
"All at once?"
"To his father? Oh, no--by no means. Think of the shock. No--one at a time; break it to him by degrees."
"Would that have that effect, father?"
"Yes, my daughter. Remember, you are young and elastic, but he is old. To send him the whole at once might well be more than he could bear. But mitigated--one basket at a time, with restful intervals between, he would be used to it by the time he got all of him. And sending him in three ships is safer anyway. On account of wrecks and storms."
"I don't like the idea, father. If I were his father it would be dreadful to have him coming in that--in that--"
"On the installment plan," suggested Hawkins, gravely, and proud of being able to help.
"Yes--dreadful to have him coming in that incoherent way. There would be the strain of suspense upon me all the time. To have so depressing a thing as a funeral impending, delayed, waiting, unaccomplished--"
"Oh, no, my child," said the earl reassuringly, "there would be nothing of that kind; so old a gentleman could not endure a long-drawn suspense like that. There will be three funerals."
Lady Rossmore looked up surprised, and said:
"How is that going to make it easier for him? It's a total mistake, to my mind. He ought to be buried all at once; I'm sure of it."
"I should think so, too," said Hawkins.
"And certainly I should," said the daughter.
"You are all wrong," said the earl. "You will see it yourselves, if you think. Only one of these baskets has got him in it."
"Very well, then," said Lady Rossmore, "the thing is perfectly simple- bury that one."
"Certainly," said Lady Gwendolen.
"But it is not simple," said the earl, "because we do not know which basket he is in. We know he is in one of them, but that is all we do know. You see now, I reckon, that I was right; it takes three funerals, there is no other way."
"And three graves and three monuments and three inscriptions?" asked the daughter.
"Well--yes--to do it right. That is what I should do.
"It could not be done so, father. Each of the inscriptions would give the same name and the same facts and say he was under each and all of these monuments, and that would not answer at all."
The earl nestled uncomfortably in his chair.