The minister’s voice was weak; every now and then people looked inquiringly at one another, and there were fine hisses of interrogation. This parlor of the Means house had never been used since the time of the lawyer’s mother. Women had been hard at work there all day, but still there was over everything a dim, filmy effect, as of petrified dust and damp. A great pier-glass loomed out of the gloom of a wall like a sheet of fog, with scarcely a gleam of gold left in its tarnished frame. The steel engravings over the mantel-shelf and between the windows showed blue hazes of mildew. The mahogany and rosewood of the furniture was white in places; there had been a good fire all day, but all the covers and the carpet steamed in one’s face with cold damp. However, scarcely a woman in Upham but would have been willing to be a legitimate mourner for the sake of investigating the mysterious best-room, which had had a certain glory in the time of the lawyer’s mother.
A great wreath of white flowers lay on the coffin. Its breathless sweetness clung to the nostrils and seemed to fill the whole house. Now and then a curl of pungent smoke floated from the door-cracks of the air-tight stove. All the high lights in the room were the silver of the coffin trimmings and the white wreath.
Solomon Wells had a difficult task. The popular opinion of Colonel Jack Lamson in Upham was that he had led a hard life, and had hastened his end by strong drink. He could neither tell the commonly accepted truth out of respect to the deceased, nor lies out of regard to morality. However, one favorable point in the character of the deceased, upon which people were agreed, was his geniality and bluff heartiness of good-humor. That the minister so enlarged and displayed to the light of admiration that he almost made of it the aureole of a saint. He was obliged then to take refuge in the broad field of generalities, and discourse upon his text of “All flesh is as grass,” until his hearers might well lose sight of the importance of any individual flicker of a grass blade to this wind or that, before the ultimate end of universal hay.
Solomon Wells was not a brilliant man, but he had a fine instinct for other people’s corns and prejudices. Everybody agreed that his remarks were able; there were no dissenting voices. He concluded with an apt and solemnly impressive reference to the wheat and the chaff, the garnering and the casting into furnace, leaving the application concerning the deceased wholly to his audience. That completed his success. When he sat down there was a heaving sigh of applause.