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Two Widows; A Contrast., Issue 8024, 28 September 1889, Supplement
Two Widows; A Contrast.
[Edith Sighed, is ' Time.’] THE HYDE PARK WIDOW. She is over thirty, and she cannot live without sympathy. You will, therefore, frequently meet her at Mrs Under-Standall’s, both on the third Tuesday in every second month and also more especially at other and more solemn seasons, when she emerges from Mrs Under-Standall’s study with red eyes and a fragrance of eau-de-Cologne still qlinging about her. She is rather like a refined conundrum ; her first was a Passion and a Gap, her second will be a Victory and a Prop, and her whole is a Social success. She talks much of love in a life, and above all in a woman’s life, and of first passions and second passions, which are riper and stiller, but even deeper than firsts. Society has in turn married her to a widower of sixty with three country houses, to a penniless doctor, a fashionable preacher, a fast nobleman, a rich undergraduate ten years her junior, and a blind scholar intent upon a work. Society does even more for her than this. It thinks of her, decides for her, gives her a field as sacred as any mission, goes to her parties, and in turn pets, dislikes, abuses, and respects her. She has the position and independence of married women, with all the possibilities and excitement of the nn-. married. She alone is allowed to combine the social privileges of a wife with the selfishness of a bachelor and the Weltsohmerz of a widow. She is brimful of indefinite wounds, which only make her the more attractive. A young widow must necessarily be of far deeper interest than a girl, because she combines all three tenses past, present, and future—whilst a girl entirely lacks the first ; but it is the past which possesses by far the most potent and mysterious charm, since it can no more be read than the future, and yet, having hap-, pened, is open to much more tangible speculation than the vagueness of the time to come. This particular widow heightens her natural attractions by keeping up this sense (fi mystery, and by talking exclusively about herself in half hints and delicate suggestions, which convey no evidence as to any of her tenses, but only flatter curiosity and stimulate investigation. She has a genius for egotism, and makes infinitely more out of it than Casablanca made of his burning deck; in fact, ft becomes her as perfectly and naturally as her Paris gown (from VYorth’s). of more than decent black, or h,or little embroidered shoe, which Keyer shows how deep it has been plunged in the waters of affliction and the Slough of Despond, Her faults she never showsj indeed, people imagine her far too unhappy to have any, and consider them entirely effaced by that vague quarrel with life which she perpetually wages, and her plaints about which she pours forth p»u ceasingly like perfumed cascades. She has four confidantes (besides ilpa. UnderStandall);—a beautiful lady, mote popular than herself, whom shq feats«, 0 plain lady, with no self, wh,OW. she finds useful; a dashing officer, whom she adores; and a long, shy Oxford undergraduate who adores her. Naturally of academic leanings (before marriage she affected the classics) she has, notwithstanding, a decided penchant for the military and tandem element—fear uniform rather than university and has, consequently trusted to Paris to scourge the old Adam (or Ovid) out of her with silken rods of countless cost. Pretty she is not; some call her plain; none unattractive. Ambition is her ruling passion, and this power alone is strong enough to induce her now and again to let fly the savor of a failing, and to force her to make sudden disclosures of jealousy in society when she does not get all she wqnts. Her ambition takes many remoter forms besides the evident desire to attract, though they all, directly or indirectly, serve the same end. For instance, she has an apparent passion for mind, politics, and discussion, which often gains her the reputation of being far more intelligent than she really is; her brain, however, though never original, is dear and versatile, and she takes a keen, anxious interest, ia all those public questions and literary matters in which men also axe Interested, and therefore, most specially in the concerns of the State, Talk she has cultivated in herself, like an exotio, and she beats \\p good talkers from all the five continents with feverish zeal. Her parties are much frequented and gay with wit; it is really wonderful how she controls her aching void when she sits at the head (fiber table and entertains the celebrities whom she collects like butterflies, In rooms rich yet simple, and only facvlf-Jih by dim, pinkshaded lights a happy anion of Paris and London, Little dinners, with general conversation suitable for prospective memoirs, are her favorite and most successful form of entertainment; indeed, the larger half of her life and conversation is ruled and guided by the hope of appearing in some future ‘ Life and Letters,’ and all her correspondence, even to her slightest note, is swayed by this purpose, Sha aims, at cautious Recamierhood, and often holds her head in the position adopted by Madame De Racamier in her portraits. Real troubles she has none, and bodily ease, as procurable on fifteen hundred a year, she safely possesses; but the sorrows of the mind arc independent of outward circumstances, and it is only the riper, stiller second Iqve which will soothe and heal the widow’s wounds. THE' WIDOW;. “ ‘Sweating,’ they call it, does they ? and no bad name neither, but I’m not for running it down so bitter; for wot on earth I should have done without it since 1 buried Brown is more than I can tell you,” says Mrs 'Brown', widow; —and also sweater to. Hyam Israel, employer of troupers hands ip the next street, in his turn employed by Smith, tailor, of Hxmndpditch, Mrs Brown h v c,s a passion for emphasising her words promiscuously aqd plaintively; it is the only passion she possesses; all her other passions have been driven out by the making of trousers; not that Mrs Brown objects to making trousers, or regards them in at all a lurid light; in fact, she is rather surprise at the “fuss the papers are makin’ of them, as if it ’adnt always been the same from time in memoriams,” as she observes. But of course it isn’t always easy to bring up ten children (and only two old enough to bn making anything) upon trousers, with only twopence for “ finishing a and cotton and gimp to find out of that. It is rather a tight fit; but it isn’t anybody’s fault in particular, as far as she
I can see, “If things are so so they must remain,” she supposes; but she wonld like you to understand that that is why the children are so shabby, and can’t go to school, “becos of no boots” ; and that’s why the walls and the room look so bare, for lately she hasn't had anything left to pledge but the “ teacups and pioters ” ; even little Jerry’s christening-mug with the robins had to go, which was very awkward as he’s_ “in his teeth" [amysterious process which makes little Jerry howl all day and roar all night, unless his mother walks up and down with him till she drops], “and the mug amused him so nicely; but then all their clothes, except wet’s on their backs, is ‘in’ too (only for four shillings) at the ‘ Three Balls ’ round the corner.” The rent is rather a pull, and that is why they had to leave their last rooms at night and save the furniture, as the brokers were coming the next morning; it also accounts for the fact that her letters never reach her, as of course she left no address; but Maggie, who is fourteen, is at the “ seed-sorting,” and she is making three shillings a week; and Tom, aged fifteen, is an errand boy, with four-and-sixpence a week and a prospect of sixpence more at the end of the quarter; so it might be worse. The other children sit on the floor, in the fire, out of the window, or anywhere else where space seems handy; as the clothes • line with the wash hanging from it has to go across the room it requires time and perseverance to find a place to sit in, and the combined smell of steam, linen, trouser cloth, and boiled lard is a trifle stifling (on Sundays the boiled lard turns to fried potatoes, and sometimes—oh, sometimes, to shad done in oil); the baby may nearly always be found on the floor putting a sticky yellow liquid down its throat on the end of a rusty knife; sometimes, when thq knife goes an inch too deep, or tho twins walk too far out on the narrow window-ledge, Brown merely turns round and boxes their cars quickly, so as to waste no time; but as this effort nearly always breaks her needle, it becomes expensive, and as a rule she takes no notice of danger, in spite of which her offspring manage to exist in a steady, sickly way. She does not go in for grumbling, or envy, or any dislike of the rich; on the contrary, she maintains a belief that “ the rich has their own troubles. Lor’ bless you, they troubles themselves about the poor.” Sho used to like treats, holidays, and occasional excursions to Woodford once upon a time ; but these tastes have been driven out of her by now, which is perhaps convenient, as she could not possibly afford them, and shethinks of nothing but of how many “ pairs” she can get “ finished” to-day, and of how much longer the chandler will lei; her “go on tick.” She sometimes has an inkling of a craving to see green things and flowers; bat generally speaking she has no wishes, no dislikes, no keen feelings at alt now excepting hunger and worry—save in the case of the baby, for whom she still keeps & fragment of her first mother-love. In point of fact she does not realise all this at all now, and never dreams of thus summing up her calamities or the events of her week ; sho has not a minute to spare for that; she only sits on and on in her chair, bent doable over her work, pale and worn to the hone, wondering how she will ever get done, the sounds outside only reaching her ears with a dull, blurred monotony, and her whole soul wrapped in stitching and stitching and* stitching, as she will continue to stitch in. silence, straight on Into eternity.
Two Widows; A Contrast., Issue 8024, 28 September 1889, Supplement
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