BY MARJORY GANE HARKNESS
THERE is not a widower in the whole Bible. At least he did not remain one long enough to appear in the Concordance. But with widows the Scriptures are heavy laden. The solicitude of the Hebrew writers for a widow is something like that of children for a stray dog. To them the term was the ultimate word for affliction. The best smiting in all God’s armory of punishments was in store for him who sent widows away empty; whereas to cause the widow’s heart to sing for joy was the very best in Biblical Social Service.
There was good economic reason in Job’s day why the widow was like unto the stray dog. She probably came to the back doors in Uz, and was acquainted with the Judean garbage pits. She was without her provider; she was destiny’s castaway, with only her desolation for a cloak. The Biblical period is not the only one where the widow’s plight has been a case apart. In India she may often have felt that suttee was the lesser evil of two. In the long photography of Victorian literature widows have a special character. Is n’t their composite picture in our minds a large solemn woman flowing with crapebordered black, consecrated to mourning and to making people uncomfortable? Even now, no matter what kind of widow we talk about, — a rich widow: see her in her caracul coat getting into her car with the aid of a footman; a young widow: she has beautiful teeth and a high natural color set off by her black; a poor widow woman: she is that limp specimen with threadbare gloves mumbling for charity, — in every case Widow is her hallmark, her status, her comprehensive fact. She is not just a person whose dearest friend has died; she is a Widow, impaled upon the word of calamity. When I took the telephone receiver and heard the faint long-distance message of which the first clear word I caught was ‘autopsy,’ though my upper mind answered and framed the necessary questions, the reflex that zigzagged like a swift snake along my intestinal mechanism was the automatic hereditary word, paralyzing the sense. Widow. Widow.
No epithet with anything like that force exists for parents who have seen their child lowered into the ground, or have read a telegram from the War Office with the regrettable intelligence of his death in action. They have lost their son, we say. Terrible. But have n’t they two other children left? Or, at the worst, they still have each other. But have they? Marcus’s going has changed his father, changed him from an upstanding man in command of his forces to a broken one; it has aged his mother unrecognizably. They have n’t now the same each other. They cannot talk of Marcus together any more — each has to work something out in the solitude of his own misery. But the language takes no special account of their status. Childless they are, but so are numbers of their friends who have elected to be; ‘childless’ is no term that essentially carries grief with it.
Copyright 1935, by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass. All rights reserved.
If Marcus at sixteen, who worshiped his father and patterned after him even to his inflections and the motions of his head, if Marcus has seen his father wiped away by the flu, and his youth is warped with rebellion and cynicism, what name does the language have for young Marcus in his lone fiery ordeal? He is fatherless. So is the woman next door, just having buried her parent of eighty-five years who has been paralyzed for the last six — an intolerable burden lifted. So are the mites in the sand pile on the next street, whose mother is planning a new father for them in the person of the radio repair man. ‘Fatherless’ can imply much or little. A term with more terror to it is ‘orphan,’ but usually something is done for the Annies, be it ever so unsociological. Most of us over fifty are orphans and are not set apart by it.
But widows are in a class by themselves. The widow floats in sympathy and concern, deserved or not. Well she knows it — it may be the first chance in her life to attract concern. With all consciousness of her importance, she establishes herself in her new rôle, and proceeds to maintain it with distinction. If she has inherited her husband’s property, and furthermore becomes executrix or administratrix, she has moved up several pegs in significance. All the legal formalities take distinguished account of her: the widow enjoys, the widow receives, the widow will sign, the widow must file, the widow is represented; they talk to her about her widow’s award, or her right to a widow’s election; she finds herself an affiant, an oratrix, a co-trustee — a lot of things she never dreamed of being when her business on any dotted line was nothing more than housewife. She frequents the bank, learns her way about the law offices, confers with the brokers, holds up her right hand before the judge and says, ‘So help me God.’ She has papers to find, inventories to check, documents to read before signing; her insurance policies are to be investigated, her will is to be made, and her taxes, several kinds, are to be most loudly and continuously deplored. It makes her something of a person, and very likely a prize nuisance in all the business offices where her affairs are being handled.
This complex of importance does not take possession of the widower, the fatherless, or the childless. A megalomania that would have been unknown to us before the death of our husbands attacks women like a pestilence in widowhood. You know us where we congregate, on the Cruises, in the Palace Hotels on the Riviera and in Rome, when we are not hibernating in our hotel apartments at home among the family furniture and mementoes, nursing our bronchitis and resenting our inconveniences. Abroad, the decline of the dollar is a personal affront. We compare notes as to how serious our lot is; what ‘my business agent writes’ and what ‘my lawyer says’ is quoted with respect if not with much intelligence. The lawyer back in his office in New York is hard put to it to know what to tell the widow — he tells her anything that will keep her abroad; it is better for everybody if he can. ‘ My daughter,’ ‘ my son’s wife,’is usually ‘coming’ — she has been sent for to share the anxiety. Or else, ‘my daughter-in-law says my room in her home is always waiting for me.’ The querulous voice makes one hope her daughter-in-law will have the room waiting for some time.
That corollary, the phenomenon of the Bought Niece, do you know it? Paris knows the Bought Niece well. Rome is full of her. Sometimes — even worse — it is a Bought Nephew who squirms in his ignoble toils. You see, besides arthritis this widow has her loneliness to bear, which does not seem right for one who should not need to suffer anything. She has to be helped down steps by the chauffeur — it is quite sad. But at home in Buffalo is a family of nieces (and nephews), whose mother married not an automobile manufacturer but a minister, and one of the nieces, we will say, will most gratefully be bought. There is rapture in Buffalo when the letter comes inviting the prettiest niece for a year abroad. What more alluring prospect than Europe with the fabulous aunt who can do anything in the world she likes! The niece comes to Italy starryeyed with expectation. But after some months she presents a different appearance — her eyes are then set in dark hollows. The Buffalo home is heaven, but there is no prospect of returning to it.
In the mornings she does the errands and takes the dog out. After lunch she reads aloud and receives dictation. She operates charmingly at the tea tray and bends gracefully to the elderly with a sandwich plate in either hand. In the evening she plays bridge and reads aloud once more into the small hours, for widows have a great deal of insomnia. She wishes, of course, to return all she can for her year abroad, as adjured in every letter from home. No, she has not been to Lake Nemi or to Frascati; she has been in the Vatican Gallery only once for a short time — Auntie has done those things so many times. She would love to motor some day in the Abruzzi, but no, to-morrow Auntie has planned to pick out postcards and will need her. No, she does n’t go anywhere in the evening because of bridge. You see, her aunt is not well.
Let us all uphold the aunt, of course. She is a widow, alone in the world. Is not the charming niece living at her aunt’s expense in one of the most luxurious suites in Rome? A girl who has had very few advantages of any kind should be grateful with great singleness of mind. She is n’t crippled with arthritis; she can do anything she likes — save fly the cage, indeed; while in the ministerial bosom dwells the hope that she will make herself indispensable in Rome, and so come into the Larger Life. The letters from the suite on the Pincian have not made clear that the larger life is not there.
It is hard for an elderly solvent widow to lead the larger life, or any life but the most self-centred. There is no more supremely placed person in our times than she. She need please no one. All her world is bent on seeing that it is she who is pleased. Her son may talk with violence to her occasionally, but he is in New York and she is living abroad. His concern, too, is to keep her there.
Catch the conversation over the bridge table of four well-upholstered old impenitents whose only contestants are their several infirmities. With each other their defenses are down. ’I told him I would n’t have it. I’d go to another hotel. That brought him round.’ ‘Yes, she’s a good girl, my niece. She does n’t give me any trouble.’ ‘He said it was too expensive for me. It was expensive, but it was worth it.’ ‘They won’t dare refuse me — they want patronage, don’t they?’ “‘We don’t make them in sets any more,” he said to me. “They aren’t fashionable.” “ You make a set for me,” I said; “I’ll see that it’s fashionable.”’ Why, certainly. It is this lady whose wishes make manufacturers’ history. She deserves a great deal of truckling. She is probably a collector of something, and commissions portraits. If a young sculptor can get her to his studio, his future may be made. But not if his manners are too independent. She is immune from criticism, not only because she is elderly and a woman, but at bottom because she is a widow, invested with the consequence that is in the title.
The psychological change that comes to widows is not illusory. I have always been alone — even well married, I have basically, of course, never been other than alone. But now I am alone differently. I am reaware of aloneness with every turn of the day’s chance. In partnership the whole of life is referred to the partner. I could not be independent if I tried, even the more if my husband supplied me with all the independence at his command. Nothing that I did was without his mark upon it in one way or another. Long association with him insensibly affected all my ideas, my sense of humor and of values. But now that we are apart his effect, though still there, still operating, has become static. There are no surprises, no new play of personality upon me to keep me in active adjustment. It is a historical he who is there, not one who is producing himself afresh hour by hour in response to each newly created circumstance. When I had to turn in my old car, the one he gave me and in which he rode with me, it was another link with him I gave up. While I still drove it, I felt him there, looking ahead, saying nothing if crisis loomed, but merely stopping halfway the transit of his cigarette hand. When the risky moment passed, he put a period by flicking the ash. My new car he never saw; I am alone in it. In my new car I am a widow.
That difference between his then and his now is like that between a photograph, excellent reproduction though it may be, and the actual person who went to sit for it, the very man who, in the familiar mixture of irritation and consent that goes with being photographed, kept his appointment at the studio and submitted to the ordeal. It is, figuratively, a photographed husband that follows my movements in my mind and checks my step, an almost cardboard likeness of himself, looking in a somewhat fixed direction. Vivid change is lacking in him, plunging reaction to stimulus simply is not there.
Photographs! How we bereaved exercise ourselves to get hold of photographs! We hunt up all the early ones, we exhume the snapshots and carry the best of them to be enlarged, frame them handsomely and set them up, following the blind instinct to get back the dead, whether or no. But whatever is seen constantly is not seen. Invariably after a while the picture ceases to speak, reverts to its character of furniture. There is a better way than having it about, and that is to hide it away and take a meal of it now and again after forgetting it. Then, if one uses the lover’s device of putting the picture to the mirror, the reversal brings a fresh evocation of his personality. In the mirror there is almost movement in the face, a welling up of the familiar eye laughter, almost a flicker of changing thought, of intention to speak. It will start emotion springing.
When I found myself alone, at first for a time my mind continued its live habits of reference and check. ‘I must remember to tell Decius about this — what will Decius want done about that?’ The habit of writing to him — is it possible he is not there in that other city waiting to hear? The habit of calling upon him — will he not lift the fire log for me, twist the refractory bottle top, carry the suitcase upstairs? The habit of refuge — ’I’ll talk it over with my husband and let you know,’which deferred disagreeable decisions and closed importunate telephone calls. That very part of myself that brought home the clock from the repairer’s, that ferreted out the error in the bank balance; the part that watched the secondhand bookshops and brought home by degrees collections of my favorite authors, the Vernon Lees, the C. E. Montagues, the Somerville and Rosses, the few Percy Lubbocks; the part that came up out of his chair when I exclaimed at the sunset, that heard with me the first chatter of the wren and observed the first crocus from the dining-room window; even the part that said practically nothing when the saucepan boiled over or the shoelace broke or I cut my thumb — it takes time to learn that this powerful share of me is excised, amputated.
Some months after the lightning bolt had struck, I found myself on a wide new highway cut through a familiar town near ours, a town which had always before to be threaded slowly. ‘Well, see what’s here! Decius will be pleased,’ was my quick thought. ‘He has been hoping they would widen this.’ It was some seconds before the sensation of falling elevator in me told me what was the matter. No. He is out of reach of all that. What does he care whether there is a through highway in that town or not? Highway in our meaning is all negation to him now. It neither disconcerts nor delights the electronic operations that take place in that quiescence or lucidity of his which is outside the scope of my small mind. That habit of reference of mine will have to admit defeat. I must learn that I can impart nothing to him now.
To impart — woman’s pressing need. I no longer have the wife’s privilege of telling him something. When telling, I stirred the signs of relish that were my test; I knew it for good marriage. He relished me and I did not need to think about it; there were other things to do. If Decius’s eye, quite lustreless, could in company cross my glance with a dropped message that defied interception, the antiphony between us was demonstrated anew. Each was the other’s value, his weight , his meaning in the world. Of all the network that knits me with my fellow mortals, much the densest mesh is where the two of us were enveloped together. In the process of cutting the threads now, one by one, consciousness cries out. It wants its otherness, its component. A bird with one wing, or the man who has but one arm left, puts out the other to steady himself, and falls for the lack of it.
The first and easiest substitute one reaches for is retrospect, but retrospect has a dark danger trap — namely, ‘What should I have done differently?’ That fatal problem of a wife’s policy — you can turn it round and round and ahways see some fresh aspect of it. It looks at first like this: Should n’t your man have unlimited freedom to be himself without the sense that you are critical of what he does — such liberty as you accord any other of your friends, whose lives you are indulgent toward and make no attempt to change? Those friends’ small defects you would rather recognize and cherish with amusement; you would not think of calling their attention to them. Your husband is the best friend you have — should he not enjoy the largest tolerance to live his life as it seems good to him? Being married to you should not limit him — it should expand him.
But here you turn the question a quarter revolution. Your other friends do not bring their foibles to live with you day and night. If you allow some small annoyance to be increased and multiply itself into a usage that soon amounts to habit, and then to tradition, its cumulative effect may be out of all proportion to its innocuous beginnings — it may even imperil your affection. Very well, then — here you turn another quarter: if confronted with a tendency that needs correction, it is your business as his wife to present that to his attention. No one else will. But — now another turn — if you warn him against something that has become a part of him, he cannot receive that judgment of yours without shock. You will put him in a dilemma. His conception will be different from yours. He is not prepared to deal with the matter at once or to surrender his sovereignty of choice. But he would like to give you satisfaction if possible. And, as he has been made self-conscious, he must take first refuge in reticence or even evasion, and — back to the beginning again — you will not like that and your last state may be worse than the first.
Which aim would have been better, to keep intact your approval of him in which is imbedded your love, or his own serenity as the unquestioned arbiter of his affairs? Many a widow sets herself this riddle, and is haunted by the fear that she may have answered it wrong.
Fear indeed rules much of her consciousness now that she has not his reassuring warmth upon it. And fear brings change. At first, when she is only stricken, she crawls limping and inarticulate into a hole, and no one reaches her there. But when she begins to go forth to forage again she is changed toward life — not quite so free with it as formerly. She distrusts approach; pausing and alert, she scents the wind, stops, looks, and listens for sounds and indications. Life is all extrahazardous — she cannot step too gingerly or tread too narrowly, or be too closely furled against the storms. She can easily be lost, and, if lost, there is no one to come and find her. It is a curious experience in middle age — this sudden loss of one’s natural corrective. Inevitably one fumbles — with the native illuminant cut off, what else is there but to feel one’s walls and grope?
Though I am speaking of a state of mind, groping is all but literally what happens. That loyal friend Junius, whose wish to be of help to the widow conflicts with his very masculine reluctance to be caught giving advice, may let his sympathy get the better of his judgment and drop a word or two of guidance. Cornelius too, feeling strongly about the dangers to the defenseless widow in these rocky times, rather against his will is led into pointing out what her best course would be. But these views, so kindly framed, so hesitatingly proffered, and so hungrily seized upon by one who feels acutely the shortage in advice, are mutually contradictory to the point of collision. Oh, for quiet Decius at home, easily producing his own neat sound opinions, and making all the deductions for the family! Though she listens with fervor and gratitude to Junius and Cornelius, and downtown to the known expert Antoninus and the known expert Marius, backed by their swivel chairs in their inner offices, and though she judges and sifts with all the presence of mind she can muster, in final analysis what has the widow but guesswork and tears? Behind her automatically closing oyster shell is likely to be the poor conclusion that Antoninus seems like a nice man, or that Marius certainly has an imposing staff of stenographers.
Of course there are beneficent aspects to the change that has occurred. When the storm has worn itself out, emotion — any kind of emotion — is less quick in you. Small disappointments no longer devastate; greater ones are easier to assimilate. In the interval since you were last alive, age has crept kindly upon you, the old age of emotion. Perhaps it is like a harborage you have come into. No longer subject to every wind that blows, you lean gratefully upon calm, and listen willingly to the stillness. A shift has taken place in your interests. Your house, for example, that place in space that enclosed the life you had together, your house has always been in the top stratum of your mind, its arrangements, your purchases, your ideas for it — your house was like a running accompaniment. Now it has dropped like a plummet down out of your concern. It has no meaning for you, no future. It housed your past, and with your past has come to a halt. Your notice is attracted now by the things that cool the human heartache. With a slow-burning pain of your own, any agency that will pour a picric acid stirs what response you have to give. You look for what healing there is in such things as religion, music, gardens, or people.
Or in remarriage. In every friend’s mind who brings you her sympathy, you read that unuttered suggestion: remarry. Drowning, I clutched at that easy rope, too: ‘I must find someone else; I can’t do without it; I must get me a substitute,’ swirling round and round in the maelstrom. But presently comes quietly to the surface the fact that someone is no antidote. No. Let me take aloneness while there is still some flexibility left in me to learn its ways, which will not be so hostile when embraced. I will do better not to assume someone’s else last phase of life as well as my own. The last phase is something to be encountered in privacy, with girded powers and a single problem in adaptation. Remarriage invites death to attack my citadel again, later when I could be more vulnerable to it even than now.
People, however, if the widow turns to them for renewal, will only quicken the sense of the separation she is undergoing. At first she talks of her husband and herself almost as freely as if he were soon coming in. She gets through many a conversation about him without being too visibly shaken. But soon he has begun to drop out of others’ talk. She sees that it blocks them to have him in the conversation much. They expect to be solemn when they speak of the dead, to do it in quiet moments, not in a group with laughter. His friend the widow is the only one who still feels his right to be there, but if she includes him in the laughter she will kill it. They fancy she will show emotion at mention of his name, and when his name occurs more rarely with them she refrains from using it herself, to save them their embarrassment.
But I resent being solemn when speaking of the dead. I want to be light-hearted in referring to Decius, whenever I can, just as if he were there in the other chair. Why may I not keep him as alive as possible? Such a personality as his is too strong to need protecting from anybody. He should be an active factor in all the heat and scrimmage of conversation, contributing his full flavor to it out of everybody’s memory, taking his turn as a subject of discussion quite as much as Hitler, or Mr. Tugwell, or Johnny away at school, or anyone else not present. If I had the tongues of men and of angels I would do something to annihilate forever that hoary sophistry, that vicious unreasonableness, Nil nisi bonum. We debunk the great with complacency; everybody reads how fallible Washington was, and Queen Victoria. But of Father or Sister Letty or Aunt Abigail gone to their reward none may say the truth. Father may have held an autocratic thumb upon our comfort throughout his long life, but no hint of it may escape us now as we receive the visitors and discuss the portrait. The obituaries included a list of the causes he headed, but said nothing of the many times he made Mother weep. And Mother as a widow is the first to lend herself to the convention. Dear Father, you understand, was a remarkable man. Just see the tributes to his strength of character and business acumen pouring in from the offices of all the competing corporations. This congestion of florists’ baskets, with so much ribbon on them, spouting the very largest gladioli and roses, — it required two maids to lift that one! — they sufficiently attest Father’s remarkableness.
Indeed the process of idealization is usually the first phase of healing. After shock, the reeling consciousness seeks footing. Recognition of the disaster that has come, forced by the facts that go along with death, alternates with a kind of incredulity, when the dispossessed one hardly grasps what has taken place. Certainty, any sort of certainty, is her most urgent need. Certainty of the perfection of the departed is the easiest form for that imperative to take. It will be secure from attack — no one living will care to dispute it and the dead will not blemish it by any further conduct. It can flourish and often is all that does flourish in a time of wreckage. So if your marriage has been a semi-martyrdom, you can now believe firmly that your husband was a saint. And what a relief! Conversely, if you have ruled the union yourself and reduced your husband to the status of a shadow, you can now have laid to rest your guiding star, your master, your lord. It is a very satisfactory arrangement.
But for me there is nothing agreeable in self-deception. If there were I should doubtless adopt it. If I suffer loss, I am less uncomfortable to know it for what it is n’t as well as for what it is. It does me no good at all to see my husband as other than he was — his rare merits, his special charm, his appealing defects all together. He was a realist, and his training has made a realist of me. Especially now, I should like the body of consciousness out of which my new life must make its way to be as free as possible of any falsity, however much it may contain of weakness and inconsistency.
Yet why do I let slip no word of Decius now save in praise? Because, again, it disturbs our friends. A year ago I should have said quite naturally, ‘Decius has the worst way of forgetting to pass his cigarettes.’ Now, with a remark like that in the past tense, someone squirms. ‘ Decius never could think to pass his cigarettes’ is a disloyalty to his memory. If he had human and understandable lapses from perfection, say nothing of them, hush them up. Shorten him to fit the formula for the dead. He is no longer a whole man — he is a bust in a niche. Let no Spoon River verities touch him. Cover him, if not with eulogy, then with silence. But — let me stop to think — can it be that at bottom it is my own egotism I cover, in order that my lost, my dearest, my possession, may be magnified to majestic proportions and take laurels even of a nature that he himself would have repudiated? Oh well, fortunately for him, what he ‘would have’ repudiated or accepted or thought is now not pertinent. ‘What would Decius have thought of the Gold Decision?’ I may as well ask: ‘If you had a brother, would he like green cheese?’ Decius cannot be synthesized. His mind was too growing. Certainly what the Supreme Court did mattered to him almost as much as what his wife did. Its important decisions entered his mental fabric like a dye, modifying his professional life and reflected thence upon all his dealings. But no verb is as unreal as ‘would.’ ‘He would think’ is to guess and be paralyzed.
You know well that your husband, any husband, though you may have believed that you read him like a book, was nevertheless as unpredictable a man as ever lived. The occasions stand out in your memory when he belied all his customs and did just the opposite of what was expected of him. If there is any safe guess to be made as to what Decius would wish, it is that his imagined opinion should not be the source of your actions now. He would dislike extremely to influence you from the grave. Living, he was a foe of what he called the Dead Hand. If he had rage, it was for those famous self-made, hard-boiled testators of the nineties whose ironclad wills created follies that the living cannot overturn — institutions founded in perpetuity for which society has no more need, trusts impossible any longer to carry out, descendants fettered unto the third and fourth generation by provisions conceived in a world that was mere history almost as soon as the witnesses’ signatures were dry. To lone daughters binding their movements by guesses as to what their dead would have wished, his advice was always directed toward their own fuller freedom. He who knew me as wife did not know me with the problems of a widow. Not even Decius could foretell. He has insensibly gone elsewhere and my life has to be developed now in a different medium. It must make its own rules, and his tolerance must be trusted to comprehend, if comprehension or tolerance or even ‘ he ’ are terms applicable to that spiritual stratosphere where his being, if any, takes place. Living, one is continuity freshly written day by day, bound up with the continuity of the world. But in Decius continuity is done.
The happy element in death is that it makes safe forevermore the one who is elected to it. Fate cannot harm him; he is complete. There can be no regrets for him; he has the great advantage. Your Catholic European is bound by a convention that requires him to speak of the dead as mon pauvre père, or mia povera madre; but even he would admit that life is not always the greater blessing, and that to go out of it has sometimes distinct merits in spite of the prospective Purgatorial ordeal. Not being Catholic, I have my Decius in a state which is at least happiness, He is not disturbed any longer by the conditions in this world. Reaching after him myself, straining to hear a voice from him, living in the aftermath of his life, will have no advantages for either of us. Better for me is a full day or two of the satisfactions that remain to me. Better is my painting or cooking, my silver hammering or writing, shopkeeping or nursing, or whatever wears for me the favoring aspect of Work.
But first to drop the label ‘widow,’ with all its injurious privileges and exemptions; and, if I can, the black insignia that designate me and support my state. My husband’s death as an exculpation, as an excuse, is baneful to my future health. Although my friends would bestow their sympathy upon me to the last drop, much sympathy is indigestible food, not so sustaining as is currently thought. I have had losses; so indeed have many, have most. Robert Frost calls these ‘the shocks and changes we need to keep us sane.’ It is probably not all bad for me that shock should come to me at a time of life when all things require more effort than formerly. Effort is clearly medicinal. The last of life, as is so often pointed out, need not be barren of rewards. They will be merely different in kind from those I have known. What will be barren is existence in a retrospective coma where I feel forever the lack of my right hand. Examining my life’s map, I can see many intersections — a wide choice of routes. Even should I take one that leads in an unfavorable direction, I can always return to the fork and try another. Even within bonds is much liberty of action.
What hobby did I love in my youth, and wish so much I had not given up? I will reconnect with its absorbing fascination. What special lack have I often regretted in my community? I can evolve from that an occupation. There are many things for middle-aged women to do, if we will do the things we are equipped for. We are equipped for enterprises that call for maturity rather than youth, for experience of life in place of quest for adventure, for the understanding of human nature in conflict with our times. Let the widow count up her assets and be emboldened. Let her not wait until she has ‘got her bearings’ — she may wait too long. Self-pity is insidious; it likes a permanent residence. If the bereft mind begins by being supine, supine it will remain. Here are the blocks the earthquake scattered. Let her assemble them thoughtfully and begin to build with them whatever shape they best suggest. There will eventually be, not a stately pleasure-dome very likely, admirable from far, but at least some homely hut or remodeled cottage of her own contriving, where, though there may be solitude, there will be at least a tiny hearth fire and a cup of tea.