The Mourners


‘AND — what hour have you set for the service, Mrs. Chase?’ asked Mr. Upton hesitatingly. His manner had been hesitant and tentative all through. In all his pastoral experience with houses of grief he had never had an interview more difficult.

‘It will be on Thursday afternoon,’ said Mrs. Chase quietly and definitely.

Her sister-in-law, playing a subordinate and silent part through the call, made a gesture as though she saw reason for speaking.

The minister forestalled her, though even his response came slowly.

‘Mr. Jordan’s funeral will be on Thursday afternoon. I don’t know whether you have heard — in your own trouble — ’

‘Yes, I know,’ answered Mrs. Chase gently. ‘It will be a great loss.’

The marked stillness of her attitude and manner seemed to be a refuge to which she had betaken herself and from which she feared to break away.

‘The passing of two men of such prominence so near together was very remarkable,’ said Mr. Upton. I have never known anything like it.’

He knew the flatness of his remark and the awkwardness of its suggestion, but he was hampered by the difficulty of finding anything right to say. He had visited many widows in their affliction. but none who sat so palely quiet, yet controlled, as this one. Active grief seemed as remote from her as everything else.

The troubled sister-in-law quivered a half-smile, acknowledging his speech, but Mrs. Chase showed no response. She said only, ‘What time will Mr. Jordan’s funeral be?’

‘At two. There are relatives and some public men, I believe, to take an afternoon train.’

‘Then would four do? It is late, I know. And would that be too hard for you? ’

‘That is no consideration, believe me. Your wish and convenience are the only important thought.’

In his embarrassment he clumsily fell into mere social phraseology.

He went on to make competent suggestions for her help — for the form and circumstance with which we pursue the dead with earthly things. His sympathy was urgent, but it furnished him with neither religious thought nor human feeling to meet a grief so complicated and qualified as this. He went away mortified at his own inadequacy. ‘And I a minister to souls!’ he rebuked himself.

‘Might you not have waited, Katherine?’ asked the older woman unhappily. ‘To put the two funerals side by side, like that—’

‘The contrast is there anyway,’ said Katherine with a sharp intensity she had not yet shown. ‘We can’t make it any greater. I won’t have any shrinking or hiding about it.’

She made a passionate unpurposed movement, like a demand for escape, and then with abrupt control turned and sat herself down at her desk. There she stayed until every detail of arrangements had been provided for, she herself directing telephone orders and dictating messages, forcing herself to plan everything on a conventional and consistent scale. There must be, for his sake, no sign of apology or of shamefacedness. It was his last claim on her, and she involuntarily rose to meet it. She took on herself duties that would usually have gone to friends, gently putting aside their offers since she could not guess how willingly or perfunctorily they were made. In the developments of the past week, whom could she ask for the friendly offices and the show of esteem with which we adorn the closing life? How could she know who had been injured, or how far-reaching was the cause of estrangement, or who would be bitterest in condemnation?

It was late in the night, at last, when she put her lists and notes in order on her desk and went up through the thick quiet of the house to the empty silence of her own room. She paused outside the door behind which her husband lay, and stood leaning her forehead against the cool white door-frame. Then, with a profound sigh and slack despairing gesture, she went on her way.

As she closed her door, she seemed to be shutting in with herself a mass of facts and emotions which she must now assort and put into relation. Such a poignant complexity of feeling she had never dreamed of. She wished longingly for a simple grief, for a single unmodified regret. Most, women could mourn their husbands in that way — mourn a loss and a subtraction from their lives, love left on their hands while the object of it passed away. But she — what had death brought to her? She held up her loss and looked at it, bewildered.

For hours she had been looking forward to this time when she could close her door upon herself and balance her humiliation and her grief. There had not been a moment since the two blows fell — almost simultaneously — that, she could give entirely to thought of herself. Men had brought him home ill from the bank and had waited, reluctant and awkward and ill-at-ease, until she had cared for him, and then had told her, clumsily and incompletely, something of the uncovered crime. While she yet stared unsteadily at their revelation, trying to relate herself to this impossible thing, the doctor brought his verdict. His blow seemed to her to fall on a numbed surface, as if she could not quite feel it as she should. Yesterday she had been anxious because Stephen said he had a slight headache, and had been urgent with care and remedies; to-day she looked upon his utter need in a sort of paralysis of effort.

Memory told her little now of those hours of watching. She hoped that she had not been lacking in signs of tenderness; she believed that she had not, so ingrown a habit were they. He yielded to her attentions with his old gentleness, saying only, ‘I must get better,’ and again and again, ever more urgently, ‘I must get better,’ each time he roused himself. In the first grayness of a cloudy twilight he looked at her suddenly with more than physical anguish in his eyes and said, ‘I must get better — Katherine — I must get better’; and then sank lower in the pillows, and so on into the long unconsciousness from which he never wakened.

During those hours while there were needs to be answered or invented, — she would have no nurse brought into that strange time, — she felt always as if, even in this fearful commingling of griefs, she were having a moment of reprieve—a postponement kindly to her. Just beyond this — however it might end — lay the completion of the facts she must have, and the analysis of her feelings when she should take these apart, and look at them bare, and know their relation to the new terms of her life. The facts she now had,— she had sent for the men this morning,

— the amount of defalcation, the period, the conditions. She could easily see how it might all be paid back: there was the car, the hateful insurance, land, perhaps the house. No one need suffer in the least except herself —and she wished to suffer in this way. How many of her pleasures must have come from that money — she never knowing!

She had consciously dedicated this night to her own feelings. When she went up to her room, she went as one keeping an appointment with herself. When morning came to her still-open eyes, she was not disappointed to find that she had not slept. She had not planned to sleep.

But where she had hoped to bring order out of turmoil of feeling, she reached only worse perplexity. There were long, exquisitely poignant memories of years bursting with happiness, of constant generous giving and equally generous taking, of the sweetness of daily meeting a need for her, gently but eagerly urged — and after such memories the abrupt question, what was this man after all? And then he suddenly turned a stranger to her, a man who stole, who deceived, who failed. Her new conception of him was unrecognizable. The gay bravado of life which had made him so lovable and so cheering — what unscrupulousness lay beneath it? The richness of interest and sympathy which made living with him so joyous

— what selfishness did it cover? The pleasures she had shared so lightly and confidently were taken from the needs of others.

But that brought her back again to the happiness of that sharing. No man understood companionship better. The gay hours they had had — the sweet hours — the high hours! He had said this, or done that, or looked thus. She lost, hold of analysis in utter grief.

And then she came around the circle once more to the burning realization of disgrace, of humiliation. Even this week, while he died, talk of his sin must have gone from lip to lip all through the town. And to-morrow men would speak of his foolishness, and women of his dreadfulness, and some would be anxiously fearing that they were to suffer through him.

She flung herself from the bed and went to the window, as if freer air might give her some clearness. On the slope opposite, beyond the little park that lay between, a light was burning, as one burned on the floor below her. She knew that that was where Gregory Jordan lay dead, while the whole town mourned his going. He had been in the last thought of many for nights past and in their first morning question. Men grieved for the passing of his generosity, his eagerness for public good, his energetic righteousness, his great friendliness. And while they mourned for him, their thoughts, she knew, would turn to Stephen Chase.

She thought of Mrs. Jordan, older than herself by more than twenty years, and of the dignity and fine graciousness that life had wrought in her. What richness of satisfaction her grief must hold! She had not been robbed of her present and her past at one stroke. For her, pride in what had been would color all the grief of the present.

Through the next day and the next, amidst her own decisions and arrangements, Katherine’s mind carried on constantly a bitter comparison with the corresponding scenes in the great Jordan house. She could imagine the comings and goings there, the scale which all feeling would take on: a sort of heartiness and thankfulness which would run through all regret; the efforts of friends and neighbors and lovers of good to make a last showing of longfelt esteem. No one could guess how many men were indebted to Gregory Jordan for help, for sympathy, for a hand upward toward righteousness or a check on feet slipping downward. They would all be uniting to form such an atmosphere about that home as would make life, and death too, a sort of human triumph.

But in her house, where another man lay dead, what reserve, what embarrassment! She smiled bitterly at the predicament of friends and acquaintances, who knew not how fully to speak or what to pass over. She could take no words simply, but in spite of herself found some perfunctory or ungenuine, and others clumsy in their masking of a real sympathy. Relatives and early friends brought by the occasion wore an air of silently asking, ‘How did this come about?’ The whole relation of things about her was so strained, so full of angles and repulsions, that she found no stable point in it for her feelings to rest on.

On Thursday afternoon, while she sat in her shadowed room waiting for her own hour, her mind constantly went in intolerable envy down to the crowded church, — not even his spacious home was adequate or fitting for Gregory Jordan’s funeral, — to followin imagination the scenes there. It would be a great gathering, men coming together in friendship or praise or mere awe of death. Great words would be spoken, high praise from public men, messages from laborers for righteousness and good. Better than all would be the quiet satisfied approval of those words from the onlookers of his life. Mr. Upton would speak of that life, — ‘The real flowers on a man’s tomb are his own good deeds,’ — he was fond of saying words like that. Exaltation and pride would be the note of the service.

And the next hour — what cruel juxtaposition! She could foresee sensitively the generalizations, the incomplete statements. And all those hearing would fill out the reservation and supply for themselves the unsaid thing. Many would come, embarrassed but conscientious. They would hasten from the church, with the high sense of life they had reached there; and as they came they would say to each other, ‘What, a difference here!’ She had abated not one touch of the publicity proper, or of obvious respect short of display. But she knew that the man lying there, of whom they were taking leave, would have changed suddenly, for most of those present, from the gay and gentle friend, the successful man they had known — to a criminal. It would be with half-averted faces that they would lay him away.


It was all over, and she was alone in the thickening twilight, when someone came to her, moving quiet and unannounced through the empty rooms. Katherine rose and waited, but the other woman did not speak until she had come close and laid hesitant hands upon hers.

‘It is Mrs. Jordan,’ she said. ‘Forgive an older woman for coming. And forgive my selfishness in wanting you to comfort me with a grief greater than my own is.’

‘How can that be,’ said Katherine, ‘with your loss?— so great? And what is my grief?’ she cried vehemently, impetuously, to her own surprise breaking suddenly the silence of the whole alien week. ‘I don’t know.’

‘What is it made up of?’ asked Mrs. Jordan after a pause.

‘I don’t know. Oh, Mrs. Jordan! — I have n’t talked at all — shall I seem brutal if I talk it out? You have lived so wisely, you must understand different kinds of suffering.’

‘I know more than one kind,’ she said.

Katherine looked at the gray hair showing through the dimness, and at a kind of magnificence of expression and bearing which she had always recognized in Mrs. Jordan, and she seemed to stand before triumphant experience. This woman could never have been humiliated by events as she was now.

‘But what kind do I have? It is not merely that I have lost my husband, but I’ve lost all the life that went before. I never had it at all. I thought I had, but where is it now? There is no happiness in remembering any past days, because the whole thing breaks down and falls away. I don’t know what I am mourning.’

‘Can you doubt it?’

‘I doubt everything. I used to have a notion of making a sort of collection of memories, to put away for old age or sickness or something, storing up my life. After something fine I would say, “I’ll put that away” — that was one of the little joking sayings we had; and some day, when we needed them, we were to take them all out and look at them. This is the need, but what happiness will there ever be in them now? They simply were n’t there when I thought they were. What have I at all now?’ she ended with a cry.

The other woman wearily made a little movement, a change to alertness or energy, as if she found that the interview made more call upon her than she had expected. ‘You have all you ever had,’ she said, ‘except that it is ended. You will add no more to that part of your store.’

‘ But it never was. All that was built on love — I could n’t tell you how perfect it seemed. But when you take respect and pride from love — ’ She stopped in shame. She had not been so definite even with herself before.— ‘Oh, Mrs. Jordan! Don’t think it is the outside of this that is so hard for me. I can stand the talk and the pity and the disgrace. And I can pay the money back and do without things and be glad to do it. But the part that is taken from me, myself— how can I stand it?’

The older woman gave a little sigh, as if she unexpectedly found before her a thing to which she must set her reluctant hand.

‘We all want to choose our tragedies just as we choose our joys,’ she said, with a dreariness of her own in the saying. ‘We want a big clean admirable tragedy where we can have feelings to match. We don’t choose shame or limitation in it. What if your husband had lived after you knew what he had done? How would you have felt toward him?’

Katherine stopped the little nervous movements of her slender hands, as if arrested in her thinking, and said slowly, ‘I never thought of that. It all seemed to be an inevitable set of things that had to go together. If he had lived — and I had known,’ — she considered earnestly, — ‘I should have been shocked — and disappointed, but not angry; and I should have tried to keep him from knowing how much I felt. And at last—'

‘In the end you would have forgiven him.’

‘ Yes,’ she said simply, after a pause. ‘He would have made me.’

‘And he would have lived himself back into his place with you — and with the world.’

Katherine was silent , withholding acquiescence.

‘This was only a temporary thing,’ Mrs. Jordan went on. ‘Men who use money like this rarely mean to defraud. It is dishonesty, but not the deliberately selfish kind, that really intends to deprive someone else. It is done many times without final injury to anyone. He meant this to be such a time.’

His wife recalled his anguished ‘Katherine —I must get better.’ For the first time she began to see, pitifully, the troubled way he had come — and gone.

‘But you wanted him to be perfect, as you thought him.’

‘Oh, Mrs. Jordan,’ cried the younger woman again, lapsing back in her feeling, ‘if you knew how I have envied you all day! Yours is such a clear open sorrow—not muddied like mine!’

Mrs. Jordan looked at her with pity and human tolerance in her expression. ‘Would you change places with me now — my years and all?’

‘Yes! See what you have had! Even these last older years side by side! And what you have heard about him in these last few days! If I were you I should be so proud that sorrow would n’t count.’

‘Would you?’ cried Mrs. Jordan, with a sudden breaking into intensity. ‘Can’t you imagine being willing to exchange pride for grief? Can’t you imagine longing for an absorption of sorrow that would swallow every satisfaction? You ’ve envied me in your humiliation — do you know that I have envied you, even this week?’

Katherine Chase roused herself, in an amazement that for the first time took her mind from herself. In the growing darkness of the room she strained her eyes to watch the passionate gesture and bearing of the gray-haired woman. She had a strange feeling as if an actress long-matured were suddenly taking a youthful emotional part.

‘I believe it is thirty years since I had a feeling that shook me and tore me and absorbed me as yours now does you. The strongest feeling I’ve had in all that time was discontent. I wish I could have a drowning sorrow. My sadness is that I can’t mourn enough.’

‘I don’t understand,’ said Katherine, bewildered, ‘after such a life.’

‘Such a life, yes. I was a good wife and Gregory was a good husband — and a good man, in and out. Everything said to-day was true, if it said enough. But in all personal feelings we lived with our pulses low — he did, and I came to do so after a while, reluctantly, always on a level. Our moments of higher feeling all belonged to general things, principles and discoveries and movements and thought. He had warm enough enthusiasm for those. And he had wonderful talent for friendship. He had such clear and kind and lasting relations with men. But he did n’t seem to need much more than that, I found. I was his best friend; but when it was analyzed, that was all. I don’t think he knew the difference. The selfish clement in love, the demand and appropriation, he did n’t understand. He was perfect in everything except a selfish want of me. I don’t think it was my fault,’ she added presently; ‘I don’t think he would have needed anyone more. Did your husband always ask for you the minute he came in?’

‘Yes,’ said Katherine quickly, ‘he used to call, a perfect hullabaloo, if he came in ten times a day. I could n’t break him of it.’

‘I thought so. Gregory always went to the library and waited until I came — then he was glad to see me. We were always settled down in our ways, after the very first. I used to watch your husband and you. He had an air always of making another engagement with you before he let go of that one — like a boy. I suppose,’ she said wistfully, ‘there was n’t the least little corner of his life that you had n’t been into, invited into.’

‘Except, one,’ said Katherine bitterly.

‘One — that was for you too.’

‘ I was n’t asking for money. He was quicker to plan spending than I.’

‘Yes, but to give you the scale of life that he wanted to. In this, I suppose something did n’t turn out right and he could n’t bear to have your life, even temporarily, less rich than it had been. I have n’t lived much but I have watched a great deal. I understand how he wanted to give and give. And he expected to pay this back—they always do.

‘We don’t want men to sin, and I’m a good woman; but, after all these years, I covet the impulse that made him willing to do it. Don’t you see what I’ve envied you — your richness of feeling all through? You know you never, to the last, wore down a sort of expectancy with your husband. He made you feel that old experiences could always be fresh and new. I could see it — anybody could who was looking. Even driving down for him in the afternoon was an event. It would have been amusing if it had n’t been so enviable. You could have for everyday fare what I wanted once in a while.

‘I saw myself getting to be an old woman, and I wanted to feel once, hard, before the quiet of age. I wanted one hill-top in the level. I don’t think you understand. When I knew that death had come, I thought that this was to be my great experience — it ought to be. But you see how I mourn. I am deeply sad and lonely. But I have lost the power to feel more — and I wanted to feel once to the very utmost, even in suffering. It was my last chance —’

She stopped abruptly.

‘But,’ said Katherine gently, returning in part to her wonted thoughtfulness for others, ‘ you said you came for comfort. If I could—’

‘Yes — it was absurd and gigantically selfish. Oh, I did wish to tell you not to grieve too much over the bank affair — I wanted to say that. But I thought the sight of your pain might make me a little contented that I was not suffering so much. Forgive such brutal egotism,’ she said, rising and taking on something of her usual quiet fineness of manner. ‘And forget my unreserve. It is once in a lifetime.’

‘Oh!’ cried Katherine, with an eager movement of detaining hands. ‘ Let me say — oh, you have shaken things into relation for me — I can’t tell you.’

‘Have I?’ asked Mrs. Jordan, pausing.

‘I was so stunned and selfish and I had only one narrow sight of things. I can see all around again after this. You’ve given me back so much that I thought I was never to have again! I see what it is now. — You’ve given me grief, but all that goes with it, too.’

‘I am glad,’ said Mrs. Jordan wearily. But she laid on the younger woman’s shoulders the gentle comforting hands of older years.

Then Katherine took her silently through the hall and let her go as quietly as she had come.

But she herself hastened back to the library as one eagerly keeping an appointment. She turned on soft accustomed lights in the long-used room. She felt as if a presence had been restored, a presence for days rebuffed and set aside, now restored to its right — a right of which grief was the greater part.