“Mrs. Flanders”—“Poor Betty Flanders”—“Dear Betty”—“She’s very attractive still”—“Odd she don’t marry again!” “There’s Captain Barfoot to be sure—calls every Wednesday as regular as clockwork, and never brings his wife.”
“But that’s Ellen Barfoot’s fault,” the ladies of Scarborough said. “She don’t put herself out for no one.”
“A man likes to have a son—that we know.”
“Some tumours have to be cut; but the sort my mother had you bear with for years and years, and never even have a cup of tea brought up to you in bed.”
(Mrs. Barfoot was an invalid.)
Elizabeth Flanders, of whom this and much more than this had been said and would be said, was, of course, a widow in her prime. She was half-way between forty and fifty. Years and sorrow between them; the death of Seabrook, her husband; three boys; poverty; a house on the outskirts of Scarborough; her brother, poor Morty’s, downfall and possible demise— for where was he? what was he? Shading her eyes, she looked along the road for Captain Barfoot—yes, there he was, punctual as ever; the attentions of the Captain—all ripened Betty Flanders, enlarged her figure, tinged her face with jollity, and flooded her eyes for no reason that any one could see perhaps three times a day.
True, there’s no harm in crying for one’s husband, and the tombstone, though plain, was a solid piece of work, and on summer’s days when the widow brought her boys to stand there one felt kindly towards her. Hats were raised higher than usual; wives tugged their husbands’ arms. Seabrook lay six foot beneath, dead these many years; enclosed in three shells; the crevices sealed with lead, so that, had earth and wood been glass, doubtless his very face lay visible beneath, the face of a young man whiskered, shapely, who had gone out duck-shooting and refused to change his boots.
“Merchant of this city,” the tombstone said; though why Betty Flanders had chosen so to call him when, as many still remembered, he had only sat behind an office window for three months, and before that had broken horses, ridden to hounds, farmed a few fields, and run a little wild— well, she had to call him something. An example for the boys.
Had he, then, been nothing? An unanswerable question, since even if it weren’t the habit of the undertaker to close the eyes, the light so soon goes out of them. At first, part of herself; now one of a company, he had merged in the grass, the sloping hillside, the thousand white stones, some slanting, others upright, the decayed wreaths, the crosses of green tin, the narrow yellow paths, and the lilacs that drooped in April, with a scent like that of an invalid’s bedroom, over the churchyard wall. Seabrook was now all that; and when, with her skirt hitched up, feeding the chickens, she heard the bell for service or funeral, that was Seabrook’s voice—the voice of the dead.