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THE cold January morning struggled into existence,
amidst rain and sleet, and seemed cradled in dense masses of clouds of
It appeared as if the sun had taken leave of the, earth for
ever; and it would not have been surprising had the ignorant inquired whence
came the gloomy light that just seemed to guide them to their toil.
Miserable indeed was the aspect of the eastern district of
the metropolis. Emaciated women, wrapt in thin and scanty shawls, crept along
the streets, through the pouring rain, to purchase at the chandlers' shops the
morsel that was to serve for the' morning's meal, - or, perhaps, to pledge some
trifling article in their way, ere they could obtain that meal! Half-starved
men, - poor wretches who never made a hearty meal, and who were yet
compelled to work like horses, - unhappy beings, who flew to the public houses
in despair, and then were reproached by the illiberal and intolerant for their
immorality, - black sheep of Fortune's flock, to whom verdant pastures were
unknown,- friendless outcasts, who in sickness knew no other consolation than that
of the hospital, and in destitution, no asylum save the workhouse, - luckless
mortals, who cursed the day they knew the power of love, and execrated that
on which they pronounced the marriage vows, because therefrom had sprung
children who pined for want before their face,- such men as these were seen
dragging themselves along to their labours on the railroad, the canal, or at the
It was about eight o'clock on this miserable morning, when a
man, dressed in a shabby suit of black, and wearing a very dirty white neckcloth,
the long ends of which hung, damp and lanky, over the front of his
closely-buttoned body-coat, walked slowly along Smart Street - a thoroughfare in
the eastern part of Globe Town.
This individual was in reality verging upon sixty; but as he
dyed his hair and whiskers in order to maintain an uniform aspect of funereal
solemnity, he looked ten years younger. His manner was grave and important; and,
although the rain was descending in torrents, he would not for the world depart
from that measured pace which was habitual to him. He held an old umbrella above
his head, to protect a battered hat, round which a piece of crape was sewn in
three or four clumsy folds ; but the torrent penetrated through the cotton
tegumeut, and two streams poured from the broad brims of his hat adown his
anti-laughter-looking and rigidly demure countenance.
When he arrived at about the middle of Smart Street, he
halted, examined the numbers of the houses, and at length knocked at the door of
one of them.
An elderly woman, dressed in a neat but very homely garb,
responded to the summons.
"Does Mrs. Smith live here, ma'am?" demanded the
individual in black.
"My name's Smith, sir," answered the widow.
"Very good, ma'am. I'll have a little conversation with
you, if you please, " - and the stranger stepped into the passage.
Mrs. Smith conducted him into her little parlour, and
inquired his business.
"Mine, ma'am," was the answer, "is a
professional visit - entirely a professional visit, ma am. Alas! ma'am,"
continued the stranger, casting his eyes upwards in a most dolorous manner, and
taking a dirty white handkerchief from his pocket, - "alas ma'am, I
understand you have had a sad loss here?"
"A lodger of mine, sir, is dead," said Mrs. Smith,
somewhat surprised at the display of sorrow which she now beheld, and very
naturally expecting that her visitor would prove to be a relation of the
"Ah! ma'am, we re all mortal!" exclaimed the stranger, with a mournful
shake of the head, and a truly pitiful turning up of the whites of his eyes,
"we're all mortal, ma'am; and howsomever high and mighty we may be in this
life, the grave at last must have our carkisses!"
"Very true, sir," said the good woman, putting the
corner of her apron to her eyes; for the reflection of the stranger called to
her mind the loss she had experienced in the deceased Mr. Smith.
"Alas! it's too true, ma'am," continued the
stranger, applying his handkerchief to his face, to suppress, as the widow
thought, a sob: "but it is to be hoped, ma'am, that your lodger has gone to
a better speer, where there's no cares to wex him - and no rent to pay!"
"I hope so too, most sincerely, sir," said Mrs.
Smith, wondering when the gentleman would announce the precise terms of
relationship in which he stood to the deceased. "But, might I inquire "
"Yes, ma'am, you may inquire anything you choose," said the stranger, with another solemn shake of his
head - in
consequence of which a great deal of wet was thrown over Mrs. Smith's furniture;
"for I know you by name, Mrs. Smith - I know you well by reputation - as a respectable,
and pious widder; and I feel conwinced that your treatment to the poor lamented
deceased " here the stranger shook his head again, and groaned audibly -
thing that it ought to be in this blessed land of Christian comfort!"
Mrs. Smith now began to suspect that she was honoured with
the visit of a devout minister of some particular sect to which the deceased
had probably belonged. But before she had time to mention her supposition, the
stranger resumed his highly edifying discourse.
"My dear madam," he said, turning up his eyes, " the
presence of death in this house - this wery house - ought to make us mindful of the
uncertain leasehold of our own lives; it ought to make us prayerful and
church-loving. But madam - my dear madam," continued the stranger, apparently on
point of bursting out into a perfect agony of grief, "there are attentions
to be paid to the body as well as cares to entertain for the soul; and the least
we can do is to show a feeling of weneration for our deceased friends by
consigning them in a decent manner to the grave."
"On that point, sir," said Mrs. Smith, "I
think [-314-] as you do; and I s'pose you're come to superintend the
funeral. If so, I am sure I am very thankful, for it's a great tax on a poor
lone body like me to have such a undertaking to attend to."
""I'll undertake the undertaking - out of respect to the
poor dear deceased, ma'am," observed the stranger, in a tone of deep solemnity.
"And now, ma'am," he continued, rising, "I must request you to command
those feelings which is so nat'ral under such circumstances, and show me into
the room where the blessed departed lays."
Mrs. Smith, thinking within herself that the visitor must
have some legitimate authority for his present proceeding, and presuming that he
would condescend to impart to her the nature of that authority ere he took his
leave, conducted him with very little hesitation to the room where the deceased
lay stretched upon the bed.
The corpse was covered with a clean white sheet; for every
thing, though excessively homely, was still neat and decent In the widow's
"I see, ma'am," said the stranger, advancing solemnly up
to the bed, and drawing the sheet away from the corpse, - "I see that you know
how to pay proper respect to the last remnants of mortality. Ah! ma'am, it's all
wanity and wexation of spirit!"
With these words the extraordinary stranger drew a rule
gravely from his pocket, and proceeded to measure the corpse, saying at the
same time, "Ah! my dear madam, heaven will reward you for all your goodness
towards our dear deceased friend!"
"Was he a friend of yours, then, sir!" demanded the
widow, somewhat astounded at the process of measurement which was now going on
before her eyes.
"Are we not all friends and brethren, ma'am!" said the
stranger "are we not all Christian friends and Christian brethren? Yes,
ma'am, we are - we must be."
"May I ask, sir, why "
"Yes, ma'am, ask any thing - I implore you to ask any
thing. I am so overcome by the idea of your goodness towards the blessed
defunct, and by the sense of the dooty which my profession "
"What profession, sir?" asked Mrs. Smith, point-blank.
"Ah! my dear madam," answered the stranger, with a shake
of the head more solemn than any be had yet delivered himself of, "I
exercise the profession of undertaker."
"Undertaker!" ejaculated the widow, a light breaking in
upon her as she thought of the systematic measurement of the body.
"Undertaker and furnisher of funerals, ma'am, on the
most genteel and economic principles."
"Well - I raly took you for a minister," said Mrs. Smith,
"Excellent woman! your goodness flatters me," ejaculated
the undertaker. "But here is my card, ma'am - Edward Banks, you
perceive - Globe Lane. Ah! my dear madam, I knew your dear deceased husband well !
Often and oft have we chanted the same hymn together in the parish church; and
often have we drunk together out of the same pewter at the Spotted Dog."
Mournful, indeed, was the shake of the head that accompanied
this latter assurance; and the undertaker once more had recourse to his dingy
widow used the corner of her apron.
Mr. Banks saw the advantage he had gained, and hastened to
clench the object of his visit.
"Yes, my dear madam, no man respected your dear husband
more than me: in fact, I wenerated that man. Poor dear Thomas Smith "
"Matthew, sir," said the widow mildly.
"Ah I so it was, ma'am - Matthew Smith! Good fellow -
charming companion - excellent man - gone, gone - never to come back no
And Mr. Banks sobbed audibly.
"Well," observed the widow, wiping her eyes, "it's
wery strange that poor dear Mat never should have mentioned your name to me, considering you was so intimate."
"Our friendship, ma'am, was a solemn compact - too solemn to be made a matter of idle conversation. But
since I have made myself known to you, my dear madam, do, pray, let me take this
unpleasant business off your hands, and conduct the funeral of your lamented
"Well, sir," said the widow, after a moment's reflection,
"since you are In the undertaking line, and as you've called so polite and
all, I shall be wery much obleeged "
"Say no more, my dear Mrs. Smith," exclaimed Mr. Banks.
"I will do the thing respectable for you - and wery moderate charges. You
need not bother yourself about it in any way. We will bury the dear departed in
one of the Globe Lane grounds and I will even provide the clergyman."
"Do you know a good - pious - sincere minister that you can
recommend, Mr. Banks?" asked the widow.
"I do, ma'am - a godly, dewout, prayerful man - meek and humble," answered the undertaker.
"I rather want a little advice in one way - quite
private," continued Mrs. Smith; "and I should take it as a faviour if your
friend the minister would just step round - or shall I call upon him?"
"No, Mrs. Smith - certainly not. He shall pay his respects
to you. Gentlemen always waits upon ladies," added Mr. Banks.
Though he uttered a compliment, he did not smile; but Mrs.
Smith was flattered; and, leading the way down stairs to her little parlour, she
invited Mr. Banks to take "a thimble-full of something short to keep out
the damp that cold morning."
Mr. Banks accepted the civility; and the costs of the funeral
were duly settled. The undertaker engaged to inter the deceased lodger for five
pounds, and pay all expenses. At length he took his leave; and Mrs. Smith felt
quite relieved from any anxiety respecting the obsequies of the deceased.
From Mrs. Smith's humble abode, the respectable Mr. Banks
proceeded to the dwelling of the Resurrection Man, who had just returned
from a visit to the surgeon that had attended upon the deceased. The success of
this visit will be related hereafter; for the present, let us hasten to inform
our readers that Mr. Banks acquainted his friend Mr. Tidkins with every
particular respecting his call upon the widow in Smart Street.
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