John Mortonson's Funeral

by Ambrose Bierce

JOHN MORTONSON was dead: his lines in 'the tragedy "Man"' had all been
spoken and he had left the stage.
The body rested in a fine mahogany coffin fitted with a plate of
glass. All arrangements for the funeral had been so well attended to
that had the deceased known he would doubtless have approved. The face,
as it showed under the glass, was not disagreeable to look upon: it bore
a faint smile, and as the death had been painless, had not been
distorted beyond the repairing power of the undertaker. At two o'clock
of the afternoon the friends were to assemble to pay their last tribute
of respect to one who had no further need of friends and respect. The
surviv- ing members of the family came severally every few minutes to
the casket and wept above the placid features beneath the glass. This
did them no good; it did no good to John Mortonson; but in the pres-
ence of death reason and philosophy are silent.
As the hour of two approached the friends began to arrive and after
offering such consolation to the stricken relatives as the proprieties
of the occasion required, solemnly seated themselves about the room with
an augmented consciousness of their im- portance in the scheme funereal.
Then the minister came, and in that overshadowing presence the lesser
lights went into eclipse. His entrance was followed by that of the
widow, whose lamentations filled the room. She approached the casket and
after leaning her face against the cold glass for a moment was gently
led to a seat near her daughter. Mournfully and low the man of God began
his eulogy of the dead, and his doleful voice, mingled with the sobbing
which it was its purpose to stimulate and sustain, rose and fell, seemed
to come and go, like the sound of a sullen sea. The gloomy day grew
darker as he spoke; a curtain of cloud underspread the sky and a few
drops of rain fell audibly. It seemed as if all nature were weeping for
John Mortonson.
When the minister had finished his eulogy with prayer a hymn was
sung and the pall-bearers took their places beside the bier. As the last
notes of the hymn died away the widow ran to the coffin, cast herself
upon it and sobbed hysterically. Gradually, however, she yielded to
dissuasion, becoming more composed; and as the minister was in the act
of leading her away her eyes sought the face of the dead beneath the
glass. She threw up her arms and with a shriek fell backward insensible.
The mourners sprang forward to the coffin, the friends followed, and
as the clock on the mantel solemnly struck three all were staring down
upon the face of John Mortonson, deceased.
They turned away, sick and faint. One man, try- ing in his terror to
escape the awful sight, stumbled against the coffin so heavily as to
knock away one of its frail supports. The coffin fell to the floor, the
glass was shattered to bits by the concussion.
From the opening crawled John Mortonson's cat, which lazily leapt to
the floor, sat up, tranquilly wiped its crimson muzzle with a forepaw,
then walked with dignity from the room.

[1] Rough notes of this tale were found among the papers of the late
Leigh Bierce. It is printed here with such revision only as the author
might himself have made in transcription.