MRS. LANCASTER’S WIDOWHOOD
The first two years of her widowhood Alice Lancaster spent in retirement. Even the busy tongue of Mrs. Nailor could find little to criticise in the young widow. To be sure, that accomplished critic made the most of this little, and disseminated her opinion that Alice’s grief for Mr. Lancaster could only be remorse for her indifference to him during his life. Every one knew, she said, how she had neglected him.
The idea that Alice Lancaster was troubled with regrets was not as unfounded as the rest of Mrs. Nailor’s ill-natured charge. She was attached to her husband, and had always meant to be a good wife to him.
She was as good a wife as her mother and her friends would permit her to be. Gossip had not spared some of her best friends. Even as proud a woman as young Mrs. Wentworth had not escaped. But Gossip had never yet touched the name of Mrs. Lancaster, and Alice did not mean that it should. It was not unnatural that she should have accepted the liberty which her husband gave her and have gone out more and more, even though he could accompany her less and less.
No maelstrom is more unrelenting in its grasp than is that of Society. Only those who sink, or are cast aside by its seething waves, escape. And before she knew it, Alice Lancaster had found herself drawn into the whirlpool.
An attractive proposal had been made to her to go abroad and join some friends of hers for a London season a year or two before. Grinnell Rhodes had married Miss Creamer, who was fond of European society, and they had taken a house in London for the season, which promised to be very gay, and had suggested to Mrs. Lancaster to visit them. Mr. Lancaster had found himself unable to go. A good many matters of importance had been undertaken by him, and he must see them through, he said. Moreover, he had not been very well of late, and he had felt that he should be rather a drag amid the gayeties of the London season. Alice had offered to give up the trip, but he would not hear of it. She must go, he said, and he knew who would be the most charming woman in London. So, having extracted from him the promise that, when his business matters were all arranged, he would join her for a little run on the Continent, she had set off for Paris, where “awful beauty puts on all its arms,” to make her preparations for the campaign.
Mr. Lancaster had not told her of an interview which her mother had had with him, in which she had pointed out that Alice’s health was suffering from her want of gayety and amusement. He was not one to talk of himself.
Alice Lancaster was still in Paris when a cable message announced to her Mr. Lancaster’s death. It was only after his death that she awoke to the unselfishness of his life and to the completeness of his devotion to her.
His will, after making provision for certain charities with which he had been associated in his lifetime, left all his great fortune to her; and there was, besides, a sealed letter left for her in which he poured out his heart to her. From it she learned that he had suffered greatly and had known that he was liable to die at any time. He, however, would not send for her to come home, for fear of spoiling her holiday.