I began to time him, making absolutely no answer to anything he said. I quieted the old woman, stood very close to her and put my hand on her head. I said, “It’s all right, Mary. Everything is all right. You are not friendless. You are not alone.”
The two minutes were up. I took off my coat, rolled up my shirt sleeves and advanced toward him.
“Are you going to do the decent thing?”
There was one long look between us. Then he put the body back in the casket, arranged it for burial, and I opened the door and the crowd came in, not, however, before I had put my coat on again. I read the service and preached the sermon, and the undertaker did the rest.
Some months afterward, I was at work in my study in the tower of the old church, when I heard a loud knocking at the church door—a most unusual thing. I came down and found that undertaker and a gentleman and lady, well dressed, evidently of the well-to-do class, standing at the door.
“Here is a couple that want to get married, Mr. Irvine,” the undertaker said.
They came into the study and were married, and I shook hands with the three, and they went off. Next day I went to the undertaker—indeed, he was an undertaker’s helper. I went up to his desk and laid down a five-dollar bill, one-fourth of the marriage fee. Without being invited, I pulled a chair up and sat down beside him.
“Now, tell me, brother,” I said confidentially. “Why did you bring them to me?”
A smile overspread his features.
“Well,” he said, “it was like this. You remember that funeral business?”
“Well, I figured it out like this: that one of the two of us was puttin’ up a damned big bluff; but I hadn’t the heart to call it. Shake!”
WORKING WAY DOWN
After some years’ experience in missions and mission churches, I would find it very hard if I were a workingman living in a tenement not to be antagonistic to them; for, in large measure, such work is done on the assumption that people are poor and degraded through laxity in morals. The scheme of salvation is a salvation for the individual; social salvation is out of the question. Social conditions cannot be touched, because in all rotten social conditions, there is a thin red line which always leads to the rich man or woman who is responsible for them.
Coming in contact with these ugly social facts continuously, led me to this belief. It came very slowly as did also the opinion that the missionary himself or the pastor, be he as wise as Solomon, as eloquent as Demosthenes, as virtuous as St. Francis, has no social standing whatever among the people whose alms support the institutions, religious and philanthropic, of which these men are the executive heads. The fellowship of the saints is a pure fiction, has absolutely no foundation in fact in a city like New York except as the poor saints have it by themselves.