The large marble monument cast a shadow over the smaller, nearby tombstones, giving the appearance that even in death this person had stature. John Sanderson ran his fingers over the gold leaf embellishments. Nice. He started to move to the broader side of the edifice, eager to see what words might have been written by or about the one within. As a best-selling novelist, John traveled the world in search of interesting epitaphs he could transform into page-turning winners.
“Impressive, ain’t it?” The voice startled John. He didn’t know anyone else was there.
A ruddy-looking man dressed in coveralls stood behind John, arms crossed. “I noticed you lookin’ at the markers, making notes. Not from around here, are you?”
“No, sir. I’m from New York, just traveling through. I’m John Sanderson.” John extended his hand and the man clasped it.
“Name’s Dan. I’m one of the caretakers here. Are you doin’ some kinda research or you just like silent company?”
John smiled. “Actually I’m a writer. Sometimes I get story ideas from tombstones.”
“You thinkin’ this one might have a story?”
“I don’t know. I was just on my way to the other side to look for an inscription.”
“Everybody has a story. His is Matthew 16:26.”
“What was his last name?” John began jotting notes.
“Name was Riverton, just like the town.”
“Was it named after him?”
“Yep. Could say he owned the town and everythin’ in it. Had enough money salted away, he coulda made this here crypt outta gold if he’d wanted.”
“How did he make his money?”
“Most was inherited, but he was pretty savvy – invested in all the right things at the right time. Guess how much he left when he died?”
“How much?” John was busy scribbling.
Dan reached over and slapped John on the shoulder and guffawed, “All of it – yessir, every last nickel – can’t spend it where he went!”
John chuckled at the joke, then asked, “Did he have a family?”
“Had a wife, but she left him – couldn’t take the disappointment.”
“Disappointment? How could she be disappointed with such success? Surely, he provided well for her.”
“If you mean did he give her everything money could buy? Yep, he did that, but he never gave her himself. Could say his money was his mistress. Gave up his wife and life lustin' for it.”
John stopped writing. A phrase Dan used struck a chord; he heard Elena’s voice in his head – all I want is you, here – not off working for fame and fortune . . .
Walking quickly to the side of the mausoleum, John dismissed the voice. He read the inscription: “Henry Rawles Riverton – 1908-1975”. He turned to Dan, “I thought you said his name was ‘Matthew’ and that he died in 1626.”
“Nope. Said his story is ‘Matthew 16:26’ – from the book of Matthew. You know - the Bible?”
Unfamiliar with the reference, John stared at the etched marble, hoping to find it; instead, he read:
Here lies “Richard Corey”, man of fiction,
Whose life I lived and whose death I died.
E. A. Robinson’s poetic epitaph reverberated in John’s brain as he recalled lines memorized in a literature class long ago. He spoke the last stanzas aloud -
And he was rich – yes, richer than a king,
And admirably schooled in every grace;
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.
So on we worked, and waited for the light
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Corey, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.*
Dan confirmed the connection, “Yep, died the same way. Tragic. Doubt if he ever read Matthew.”
“But, where is the Matthew inscription?”
“Didn’t say there was one. Just said it was his story. ‘For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?’ If that ain’t Henry Riverton’s story, I don’t know what is.”
Suddenly, John saw the whole picture. He grabbed Dan’s hand, pumping it in gratitude. “Thank you!” he called as he ran to his car.
“Musta got his story,” Dan muttered.
In the car, John hit the speed dial button on the phone. The voice on the other end sounded surprised.
“Elena, it’s me – I’m coming home. No, nothing’s wrong. I just want to be home with you. And, Elena, get the family Bible out, there’s a passage I want to share with you.”
*”Richard Corey” from Collected Poems, by Edwin Arlington Robinson.
The Macmillan Company. 1921.
Matthew 16:26, New American Standard Bible
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