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Widowers And Widows Post by :terrydean Category :Essays Author :Myrtle Reed Date :November 2011 Read :2958

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Widowers And Widows

Next to burglars, mice, and green worms, every normal girl fears a widow. Courtships have been upset and expected proposals have vanished into thin air, simply because a widow has come into the game. There is only one thing to do in such a case; retreat gracefully, and leave the field to her.

(Sidenote: The Charm)

A widow's degree of blandishment is conservatively estimated at twenty-five spinster power. At almost every session of spinsters, the question comes up for discussion. It is difficult to see just where the charm lies.

A widow has, of course, a superior knowledge of ways and means. She has fully learned the value of silence, of food, and of judicious flattery. But these accomplishments may be acquired by the observing spinster who gives due attention to the subject.

The mystery lies deeper than is first suspected. It is possible that the knowledge of her own limitations has something to do with it. A girl who has been flattered, adored, placed upon a pedestal and worshipped, naturally comes to the conclusion that she belongs there. She issues her commands from that height and conveys to man various delicate reminders of his servility.

(Sidenote: The Pedestal Idea)

When the same girl is married and by due operation of natural law becomes a widow, she doubtless has come to a better understanding of the pedestal idea. Hence she does not attempt the impossible, and satisfies herself with working those miracles which are comparatively simple.

A widow has all of the freedom of a girl, combined with the liberty of a married woman. She has the secure social position of a matron without the drawback of a husband. She is nearer absolute independence than other women are ever known to be.

Where a girl is strong and self-reliant, a widow is helpless and confiding. She can never carry her own parcels, put on her own overshoes, or button her own gloves. A widow's shoe laces have never been known to stay tied for any length of time, unless she has shapeless ankles and expansive feet.

A widow's telegrams must always be taken to the office by some man. Time-tables are beyond her understanding and she never knows about trains. It frequently takes three or four men to launch a widow upon a two-hundred-mile journey, while a girl can start across the continent with considerably less commotion.

(Sidenote: The Inference)

The inference is, of course, that she has been accustomed to these delicate attentions--that the dear departed has always done such things. The pretty way in which she asks favours carries out the delusion. He would be a brute, indeed, who could refuse the little service for which she pleads.

The dear departed, naturally, was delighted to do these things, or he would not have done them--such being the way of the married man. Consequently, the lady was very tenderly loved--and men follow each other like sheep in matters of the heart.

The attraction a widower has for a girl is in inverse proportion to a widow's influence over a man. It is true that the second wife is usually better treated than the first, and that the new occupant of a man's heart reaps the benefit of her predecessor's training. But it is not until spinsterhood is fully confirmed by grey hair and the family Bible that a girl begins to look with favour upon the army of the detached.

(Sidenote: The Food of her Soul)

It seems to her that all the romance is necessarily gone--and it is romance upon which her soul feeds. There can be none of that dear delight in the first home building, which is the most beautiful part of marriage to a girl. Her pretty concern about draperies and colours is all an old story to the man. She may even have to buy her kitchen ware all alone, and it is considered the nicest thing in the world to have a man along when pots and pans are bought.

If widowers and widows would only mate with each other, instead of trespassing upon the hunting grounds of the unmarried! It is an exceptional case in which the bereaved are not mutually wary. They seem to prefer the unfair advantage gained by having all the experience on one side.

The normal man proposes with ease and carelessness, but the ceremony is second nature to a widower. If he meets a girl he likes, he proceeds at once to business and is slow indeed for his kind if he does not offer his hand and heart within a week.

A clever man once wrote a story, describing the coming of a girl to a widower's house. With care and forethought, the dying wife had left a letter for her successor, which the man fearlessly gave her before she had taken off her hat, because, as the story-teller naïevely adds, "she was twenty-eight and very sane."

(Sidenote: A Nice Letter)

This letter proved to be various admonitions to the bride and earnest hopes that she might make her husband happy. It was all very pretty and it was surely a nice letter, but no woman could fail to see that it was an exquisite revenge upon the man who had been rash enough to install another in the place of the dead.

There was not a line which was not kind, nor a word which did not contain a hidden sting. It would be enough to make one shudder all one's life--this hand of welcome extended from the grave. Yet everything continued happily--perhaps because a man wrote the story.

A woman demands not only all of a man's life, but all of his thoughts after she is dead. The grave may hide much, but not that particular quality in woman's nature. If it is common to leave letters for succeeding wives, it is done with sinister purpose.

Romance is usually considered an attribute of youth, and possibly the years bring views of marriage which are impossible to the younger generation. No girl, in her wildest moments, ever dreams of marrying a widower with three or four children, yet, when she is well on in her thirties, with her heart still unsatisfied, she often does that very thing, and happily at that.

(Sidenote: The Hidden Heartache)

Still, there must be a hidden heartache, for woman, with her love of love, is unable to understand the series of distinct and unrelated episodes which make up the love of a man. It is hard to take the crumbs another woman has left, especially if a goodly portion of a man's heart is suspected to lie in the grave.

It is harder still, if helpless children are daily to look into her face, with eyes which are neither hers nor his, and the supreme crucifixion in the life of a woman whose ideals have not changed, is to go into a home which has been made by the hands of a dead and dearly loved wife.

To a woman, material things are always heavily laden with memories. There is not a single article of furniture which has not its own individuality. She cannot consider a piece of embroidery apart from the dead hands that made it, nor a chair without some association with its previous occupants.

Sometimes the rooms are heavily laden with portraits which are to confront her from day to day with the taunting presence. She is obliged to tell callers that the crayon upon the opposite wall is "the first Mrs. ----." There are also pictures of the first wife's dead children, and here and there the inevitable photograph, of years gone by, of bride and groom in wedding garments--the man sitting down, of course, while his wife stands behind him, as a servant might, with her hand upon his chair.

(Sidenote: Day by Day)

Day by day, those eyes are fixed upon her in stern judgment. Her failings and her conscious virtues are forever before that other woman. Her tears and her laughter are alike subjected to that remorseless scrutiny.

(Sidenote: A Sheeted Spectre)

Does she dare to forget and be happy? The other woman looks down upon her like a sheeted spectre conveying a solemn warning. "You may die," those pictured lips seem to say, "and some other will take your place, as you have taken mine." When the tactlessness, bad temper, or general mulishness of man wrings unwilling tears from her eyes, there is no sympathy to be gained from that impalpable presence. "You should not have married him," the picture seems to say, or; "He treated me the same way, and I died."

She is not to be blamed if she fancies that her husband also feels the presence of the other. As she pours his coffee in the morning and he looks upon her with the fond glance which men bestow upon women about to give them food, she may easily imagine that he sees the other in her place. Even the clasp of her hand or the touch of her lips may bring a longing for that other, hidden in the far-off grave.

Broadly speaking, widowers make better husbands than widows do wives. The presence of the dead wife may be a taunting memory, but seldom more. It is not often that she is spoken of, unless it is to praise her cooking. If she made incomparable biscuits and her coffee was fit to be the nectar of the gods, there are apt to be frequent and tactless comparisons, until painful experience teaches the sinner that this will not do.

(Sidenote: "A Shining Mark")

On the contrary, a widow's second husband is often the most sincere mourner of her first. As time goes on, he realises keenly what a doleful day it was for him when that other died. "Death loves a shining mark," and that first husband was always such a paragon of perfection that it seems like an inadvertence because he was permitted to glorify this sodden sphere at all. She keeps, in heart at least, and often by outward observance, the anniversaries of her former engagement and marriage. The love letters of the dead are put away with her jewels and bits of real lace.

Small defections are commented upon and odious parallels drawn. Her home is seen to be miserably inadequate beside the one she once had. Her supply of pin money is painfully small, judged by the standard which has hitherto been her guide. Callers are entertained with anecdotes of "my first husband," and her dinner table is graced with the same stories that famous raconteur was wont to tell.

If her present husband pays her a compliment, he is reminded that his predecessor was accustomed to say the same thing. The relatives of the first wife are gently made aware that their acquaintance is not desired. His manner of life is carefully renovated and his old friendships put away with moth balls and camphor, never to see the light again.

(Sidenote: The Best Advertisement)

Yet the best possible advertisement of matrimony is the rapidity with which the bereaved seek new mates. There is no more delicate compliment to a first marriage than a second alliance, even when divorce, rather than death, has been the separating agency. A divorced man has more power to charm than a widower, because there is always the supposition that he was not understood and that his life's happiness is still to come.

(Sidenote: Forgetting)

Forgetting is the finest art of life and is to be desired more than memory, even though Mnemosyne stands close by Lethe and with her dewy finger-tips soothes away all pain. The lowest life remembers; to the highest only is it given to forget.

Yet, when the last word is said, this is the dread and the pity of death. It is not "the breathless darkness and the narrow house," but the certain knowledge that one's place can almost instantly be filled. The lips that quiver with sobs will some day smile again, eyes dimmed by long weeping will dance with laughter, hearts that once ached bitterly will some day swell and overflow with a new love.

This knowledge lies heavily upon a woman's soul and saddens, though often imperceptibly, the happiest marriage. All her toil and striving may some day be for naught. The fruits of her industry and thrift may some day gleam in jewels upon the white throat of another woman. Silks and laces which she could not have will add to the beauty of the possible woman who will ascend her vacant throne.

Sometimes a woman remains faithful to a memory, and sometimes, though rarely, a man may do the same. There is only one relation in life which may not be formed again--that between a mother and her child.

(Sidenote: The Child Upon Her Breast)

The little one may have lived but a few days, yet, if it has once lain upon her breast, she has something Death may never hope to destroy. Other children, equally dear, may grow to stalwart manhood and gracious womanhood, but that face rises to immortality in a world of endless change.

No single cry, no weak clasp of baby fingers is ever forgotten. Through all the years, unchanging, and taking on new beauty with every fleeting day, the little face is still before her. And thus in a way Death brings her a blessing, for when the others have grown she has it still--the child upon her breast.

Love's best gifts are not to be taken away. Tender memories must always be inwoven with the sad, and the sympathy and unselfishness which great loves ever bring are left to make sweet the nature of one who is chastened by sorrow. Grief itself never stings; it is the accusing conscience which turns the dagger remorselessly in the heart.

(Sidenote: Our unsuspected Kindness)

Life, after all, is a masquerade. We fear to show our tenderness and our love. We habitually hide our best feelings, lest we be judged weak and emotional, and unfit for the age in which it is our privilege to move. Sometimes it needs Death to show us ourselves and to teach our friends our deep and unsuspected kindness.

The woman who hungers throughout her marriage for the daily expression of her husband's love, often looks longingly towards the day to come, when hot tears will fall upon her upturned face and that for which she has vainly thirsted will be laid upon her silent lips. But swiftly upon the vision comes the thought, that even so, it would be of short duration; that the newly awakened love would soon be the portion of someone else.

It would be a beautiful world, indeed, if we were not at such pains to hide our real selves--if all our kindly thoughts were spoken and all our generous deeds were done. No one of us would think of Death as our best friend, if we were not all so bitterly unkind. Yet we put into white fingers the roses for which the living might have pleaded in vain, and too often, with streaming eyes, we ask pardon of the dead.

(Sidenote: Atonement)

Atonement is not to be made thus. A costly monument in a public square is tardy appreciation of a genius whose generation refused him bread. A man's tears upon a woman's hands are not enough, when all her life she has prayed for his love.

There is no law so unrelenting as that of compensation. Gravitation itself may be more successfully defied. It is the one thing which is absolutely just and which is universal in its action, though sometimes as slow as the majestic forces which change rock to dust.

We cannot have more joy than we give--nor more pain. The eternal balance swings true. The capacity for enjoyment and the capacity for suffering are one and the same. He who lives out of reach of sorrow has sacrificed his possible ecstasy. "He has seen only half the universe who has not been shown the House of Pain."

(Sidenote: Emerson's "Compensation")

"And yet the compensations of calamity are made apparent to the understanding also after long intervals of time. A fever, a mutilation, a cruel disappointment, a loss of friends, seems at the moment unpaid loss and unpayable. But the sure years reveal the deep remedial force that underlies all facts. The death of a dear friend, wife, brother, lover, which seemed nothing but privation, somewhat later assumes the aspect of a guide or genius; for it commonly operates revolutions in our way of life, terminating an epoch of infancy or youth which was waiting to be closed, breaks up a wonted occupation or a household or style of living, and allows the formation of new ones more friendly to the growth of character. It permits or constrains the formation of new acquaintances, and the reception of new influences that prove of the first importance to the next years; and the man or woman who would have remained a sunny garden flower, with no room for its roots and too much sunshine for its head, by the falling of the walls and the neglect of the gardener is made the banian of the forest, yielding shade and fruit to wide neighbourhoods of men."

(Sidenote: Upon the Upland Ways)

That life alone is worth the living which sets itself upon the upland ways. To steel one's self against joy to be spared the inevitable hurt, is not life. We are afraid of love, because the might and terror of it has sometimes brought despair. We are afraid of belief, because our trust has been betrayed. We are afraid of death, because we have seen forgetfulness.

We should not fear that someone might take our place in the heart that loves us best--if we were only loved enough. The same love is never given twice; it differs in quality if not in degree, and when once made one's own, is never to be lost.

There are some natures whose happiness is a matter of persons and things; some to love and some to be loved; the daily needs amply satisfied, and that is enough for content.

There are others with whom persons and things do not suffice, whose love is vital, elemental, and indestructible. It has no beginning and no end; it simply is. With this the Grey Angel has no power; the grave is robbed of its victory and death of its sting.

"Love never denied Death and Death will not deny Love." When the bond is of that finer sort which does not rely upon presence for its permanence, there is little bereavement to be felt. For mutely, like a guardian angel, that other may live with us still; not as a shadowy presence, but rather as a dear reality.

That little mound of earth upon the distant hill, over which the sun and stars pass in endless sequence, and where the quiet is unbroken through the change of spring to autumn, and the change of autumn to spring, has not the power to destroy love, but rather to make it more sure.

The one who sleeps is forever beyond the reach of doubt and misunderstanding. Separation, estrangement, and bitterness, which are sometimes concealed in the cup that Life and Love have given, are forever taken out by Death, who is never cruel and who is often kind.

(Sidenote: The Wanderer's Rest)

We tread upon earth and revile it, forgetting that at last it hides our defects and that through it our dead hearts climb to blossom in violets and rue. Death is the Wanderer's Rest, where there is no questioning, but the same healing sleep for all. In that divine peace, there is no room for regret, since the earthly loves are sure of immortality.

(Sidenote: While the Dream Seemed True)

As much as is vital will live on, unchanging, changeless, and taking on new sweetness with the years. That which is not wholly given, which is ours only for a little time, will fade as surely as the roses in the marble hands. Death has saved many a heartache, by coming while the dream still seemed true.

In a single passage, Emerson has voiced the undying beauty and the everlasting truth which lie beneath the perplexities of life.

"Oh, believe as thou livest, that every sound which is spoken over the round world, which thou oughtest to hear, will vibrate on thine ear. Every proverb, every book, every byword which belongs to thee for aid or comfort, shall surely come home, through open or winding passages. Every friend, whom not thy fantastic will, but the great and tender heart in thee craveth, shall lock thee in his embrace. And this, because the heart in thee is the heart of all; not a valve, not a wall, not an intersection is there anywhere in nature, but one blood rolls uninterruptedly an endless circulation through all men, as the water of the globe is all one sea, and, truly seen, its tide is one."

(Sidenote: The Everlasting Love)

Sometimes, into two hearts great enough to hold it, and into two souls where it may forever abide, there comes the Everlasting Love. It is elemental, like fire and the sea, with the depth and splendour of the surge and the glory of the flame. It makes the world a vast cathedral, in which they two may worship, and where, even in the darkness, there is the peace which passeth all understanding, because it is of God.

When the time of parting comes, for there is always that turning in the road, the sadness is not so great because one must go on alone. Life grows beautiful after a time and even wholly sweet, when a man and a woman have so lived and loved and worked together, that death is not good-bye, but rather--"auf wiedersehen."


(The end)
Myrtle Reed's essay: Widowers And Widows

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