The next day the fog had been cleared away and the sun, emerging after a day’s rest, sparkled with refreshed gaiety. Miss Wilcox, in deep mourning, went out to buy new black clothes—lovely they were, intentionally, not accidentally black, filmy chiffons, rippling crepe-de-chines, demure cashmeres, severe, perfect tailleurs. Here and there touches of snowy crepe gave a relief suitable to deep unhappiness and her widow’s cap, low on the forehead, was the softest and most nun-like frame to her face. Seeing herself in the glass, Miss Wilcox blushed with pleasure.
“My husband was so fond of clothes,” she murmured to the vendeuse with a break in her voice, “and he always said that nothing became a woman like black.”
* * * * *
There is a little village on the Seine. An old grey church nestles among the huddling houses. A platoon of poplars guards the river, and little pink almond bushes spring out of patches of violets. Miss Wilcox, calling herself Mrs. Demarest, lives in a charming old house surrounded by box hedges, paved paths lead through beds of old-fashioned sweet-scented flowers, stocks and wall flowers and mignonette and moss roses, lavender, myrtle, thyme and sweet geranium. Mr. Demarest, it appears, could not bear the wonderful new varieties of huge, smell-less blooms.
Miss Wilcox has never gone out of mourning, though she sometimes wears grey and mauve. Her gracious sweetness has made her much beloved in the village where her gentle presence is loved and honoured. She can often be seen bringing soup to some old invalid, or taking flowers to the church she loves to decorate. Her charity and her piety are revered by all. Sometimes in the evening she plays a game of cards with her neighbours or chess with the cure. It is known that a rich man from the adjoining town proposed marriage to her, but she continues to mourn her late husband with profound devoted fidelity. She is too unselfish to force her grief on to others, but every one knows that her heart is broken. Sometimes she talks of her sorrow—very gently, very uncomplainingly, and there are always flowers in front of the photograph of her husband on her writing table. He must have been a magnificent man—huge, with whimsical smiling eyes. Every one in the village feels as if they had known him. They have heard so much about him. He had only seen Miss Wilcox three times when he walked into her cottage. Standing in the doorway—“Ellen,” he said, and she went to him—
“I suppose I knew it was for always,” she explains gently. “It has been a short always on earth—but so happy, so very happy.”
All the girls of the village go to Mrs. Demarest before they marry. Her wise counsel and the radiant memory of her happiness lights them on their way.
“I have had everything,” she says, “and now I have found peace.”
It is the severity of suffering bravely borne. She has called her house “Haven.”