Marching Men HTML version
The funeral of Nance McGregor was an event in Coal Creek. In the minds of the
miners she stood for something. Fearing and hating the husband and the tall big-
fisted son they had yet a tenderness for the mother and wife. "She lost her
money handing us out bread," they said as they pounded on the bar in the
saloon. Word ran about among them and they returned again and again to the
subject. The fact that she had lost her man twice--once in the mine when the
timber fell and clouded his brain, and then later when his body lay black and
distorted near the door to the McCrary cut after the dreadful time of the fire in the
mine--was perhaps forgotten but the fact that she had once kept a store and that
she had lost her money serving them was not forgotten.
On the day of the funeral the miners came up out of the mine and stood in
groups in the open street and in the vacant bake shop. The men of the night shift
had their faces washed and had put white paper collars about their necks. The
man who owned the saloon locked the front door and putting the keys into his
pocket stood on the side-walk looking silently at the windows of Nance
McGregor's rooms. Out along the runway from the mines came other miners--
men of the day shift. Setting their dinner pails on the stone along the front of the
saloon and crossing the railroad they kneeled and washed their blackened faces
in the red stream that flowed at the foot of the embankment The voice of the
preacher, a slender wasp-like young man with black hair and dark shadows
under his eyes, floated out to the listening men. A train of loaded coke cars
rumbled past along the back of the stores.
McGregor sat at the head of the coffin dressed in a new black suit. He stared at
the wall back of the head of the preacher, not hearing, thinking his own thoughts.
Back of McGregor sat the undertaker's pale daughter. She leaned forward until
she touched the back of the chair in front and sat with her face buried in a white
handkerchief. Her weeping cut across the voice of the preacher in the closely
crowded little room filled with miners' wives and in the midst of his prayer for the
dead she was taken with a violent fit of coughing and had to get up and hurry out
of the room.
After the services in the rooms above the bake shop a procession formed on
Main Street. Like awkward boys the miners fell into groups and walked along
behind the black hearse and the carriage in which sat the dead woman's son with
the minister. The men kept looking at each other and smiling sheepishly. There
had been no arrangement to follow the body to its grave and when they thought
of the son and the attitude he had always maintained toward them they
wondered whether or not he wanted them to follow.