A Book of Burlesques

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Excerpt I.—DEATHI.—Death. A Philosophical Discussion The back parlor of any average American home. The blinds are drawn and a single gas-jet burns feebly. A dim suggestion of festivity: strange chairs, the table pushed back, a decanter and glasses. A heavy, suffocating, discordant scent of flowers—roses, carnations, lilies, gardenias. A general stuffiness and mugginess, as if it were raining outside, which it isn’t. A door leads into the front parlor. It is open, and through it the flowers may be seen. They are banked about a long black box with huge nickel handles, resting upon two folding horses. Now and then a man comes into the front room from the street door, his shoes squeaking hideously. Sometimes there is a woman, usually in deep mourning. Each visitor approaches the long black box, looks into it with ill-concealed repugnance, snuffles softly, and then backs of toward the door. A clock on the mantel-piece ticks loudly. From the street come the usual noises—a wagon rattling, the clang of a trolley car’s gong, the shrill cry of a child. In the back parlor six pallbearers sit upon chairs, all of them bolt upright, with their hands on their knees. They are in their Sunday clothes, with stiff white shirts. Their hats are on the floor beside their chairs. Each wears upon his lapel the gilt badge of a fraternal order, with a crêpe rosette. In the gloom they are indistinguishable; all of them talk in the same strained, throaty whisper. Between their remarks they pause, clear their throats, blow their noses, and shuffle in their chairs. They are intensely uncomfortable. Tempo: Adagio lamentoso, with occasionally a rise to andante maesto. So: First Pallbearer Who woulda thought that he woulda been the next? Second Pallbearer Yes; you never can tell. Third Pallbearer (An oldish voice, oracularly.) We’re here to-day and gone to-morrow. Fourth Pallbearer I seen him no longer ago than Chewsday. He never looked no better. Nobody would have—— Fifth Pallbearer I seen him Wednesday. We had a glass of beer together in the Huffbrow Kaif. He was laughing and cutting up like he always done. Sixth Pallbearer You never know who it’s gonna hit next. Him and me was pallbearers together for Hen Jackson no more than a month ago, or say five weeks. First Pallbearer Well, a man is lucky if he goes off quick. If I had my way I wouldn’t want no better way. Second Pallbearer My brother John went thataway. He dropped like a stone, settin’ there at the supper table. They had to take his knife out of his hand. Third Pallbearer I had an uncle to do the same thing, but without the knife. He had what they call appleplexy. It runs in my family. Fourth Pallbearer They say it’s in his’n, too. Fifth Pallbearer But he never looked it. Sixth Pallbearer No. Nobody woulda thought he woulda been the next. First Pallbearer Them are the things you never can tell anything about. Second Pallbearer Ain’t it true! Third Pallbearer We’re here to-day and gone to-morrow. (A pause....
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