The Old Wives' Tale
II.6. The Widow
Constance, alone in the parlour, stood expectant by the set tea- table. She was
not wearing weeds; her mother and she, on the death of her father, had talked of
the various disadvantages of weeds; her mother had worn them unwillingly, and
only because a public opinion not sufficiently advanced had intimidated her.
Constance had said: "If ever I'm a widow I won't wear them," positively, in the
tone of youth; and Mrs. Baines had replied: "I hope you won't, my dear." That
was over twenty years ago, but Constance perfectly remembered. And now, she
was a widow! How strange and how impressive was life! And she had kept her
word; not positively, not without hesitations; for though times were changed,
Bursley was still Bursley; but she had kept it.
This was the first Monday after Samuel's funeral. Existence in the house had
been resumed on the plane which would henceforth be the normal plane.
Constance had put on for tea a dress of black silk with a jet brooch of her
mother's. Her hands, just meticulously washed, had that feeling of being dirty
which comes from roughening of the epidermis caused by a day spent in
fingering stuffs. She had been 'going through' Samuel's things, and her own, and
ranging all anew. It was astonishing how little the man had collected, of 'things,'
in the course of over half a century. All his clothes were contained in two long
drawers and a short one. He had the least possible quantity of haberdashery and
linen, for he invariably took from the shop such articles as he required, when he
required them, and he would never preserve what was done with. He possessed
no jewellery save a set of gold studs, a scarf-ring, and a wedding-ring; the
wedding-ring was buried with him. Once, when Constance had offered him her
father's gold watch and chain, he had politely refused it, saying that he preferred
his own--a silver watch (with a black cord) which kept excellent time; he had said
later that she might save the gold watch and chain for Cyril when he was twenty-
one. Beyond these trifles and a half-empty box of cigars and a pair of spectacles,
he left nothing personal to himself. Some men leave behind them a litter which
takes months to sift and distribute. But Samuel had not the mania for owning.
Constance put his clothes in a box. to be given away gradually (all except an
overcoat and handkerchiefs which might do for Cyril); she locked up the watch
and its black cord, the spectacles and the scarf-ring; she gave the gold studs to
Cyril; she climbed on a chair and hid the cigar-box on the top of her wardrobe;
and scarce a trace of Samuel remained!
By his own wish the funeral had been as simple and private as possible. One or
two distant relations, whom Constance scarcely knew and who would probably
not visit her again until she too was dead, came--and went. And lo! the affair was
over. The simple celerity of the funeral would have satisfied even Samuel, whose
tremendous self-esteem hid itself so effectually behind such externals that
nobody had ever fully perceived it. Not even Constance quite knew Samuel's
secret opinion of Samuel. Constance was aware that he had a ridiculous side,
that his greatest lack had been a lack of spectacular dignity. Even in the coffin,