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MARY AND LETTY.
When her landlady announced a visitor, Letty, not having yet one friend in London, could not think who it should be. When Mary entered, she sprang to her feet and stood staring: what with being so much in the house, and seeing so few people, the poor girl had, I think, grown a little stupid. But, when the fact of Mary's presence cleared itself to her, she rushed forward with a cry, fell into her arms, and burst out weeping. Mary held her fast until she had a little come to herself, then, pushing her gently away to the length of her arms, looked at her.
She was not a sight to make one happy. She was no longer the plump, fresh girl that used to go singing about; nor was she merely thin and pale, she looked unhealthy. Things could not be going well with her. Had her dress been only disordered, that might have been accidental, but it looked neglected--was not merely dingy, but plainly shabby, and, to Mary's country eyes, appeared on the wrong side of clean. Presently, as those eyes got accustomed to the miserable light, they spied in the skirt of her gown a perfunctory darn, revealing but too evidently that to Letty there no longer seemed occasion for being particular. The sadness of it all sunk to Mary's heart: Letty had not found marriage a grand affair!
But Mary had not come into the world to be sad or to help another to be sad. Sorrowful we may often have to be, but to indulge in sorrow is either not to know or to deny God our Saviour. True, her heart ached for Letty; and the ache immediately laid itself as close to Letty's ache as it could lie; but that was only the advance-guard of her army of salvation, the light cavalry of sympathy: the next division was help; and behind that lay patience, and strength, and hope, and faith, and joy. This last, modern teachers, having failed to regard it as a virtue, may well decline to regard as a duty; but he is a poor Christian indeed in whom joy has not at least a growing share, and Mary was not a poor Christian--at least, for the time she had been learning, and as Christians go in the present aeon of their history. Her whole nature drew itself together, confronting the destroyer, whatever he might be, in possession of Letty. How to help she could not yet tell, but sympathy was already at its work.
"You are not looking your best, Letty," she said, clasping her again in her arms.
With a little choking, Letty assured her she was quite well, only rather overcome with the pleasure of seeing her so unexpectedly.
"How is Mr. Helmer?" asked Mary.
"Quite well--and very busy," answered Letty--a little hurriedly, Mary thought. "--But," she added, in a tone of disappointment, "you always used to call him Tom!"
"Oh!" answered Mary, with a smile, "one must be careful how one takes liberties with married people. A certain mysterious change seems to pass over some of them; they are not the same somehow, and you have to make your acquaintance with them all over again from the beginning."
"I shouldn't think such people's acquaintance worth making over again," said Letty.
"How can you tell what it may be worth?" said Mary, "--they are so different from what they were? Their friendship may now be one that won't change so easily."
"Ah! don't be hard on me, Mary. I have never ceased to love you."
"I am so glad!" answered Mary. "People don't generally take much to me--at least, not to come near me. But you can be friends without having friends," she added, with a sententiousness she had inherited.
"I don't quite understand you," said Letty, sadly; "but, then, I never could quite, you know. Tom finds me very stupid."
These words strengthened Mary's suspicion, from the first a probability, that all was not going well between the two; but she shrunk from any approach to confidences with one of a married pair. To have such, she felt instinctively, would be a breach of unity, except, indeed, that were already, and irreparably, broken. To encourage in any married friend the placing of a confidence that excludes the other, is to encourage that friend's self-degradation. But neither was this a fault to which Letty could have been tempted; she loved her Tom too much for it: with all her feebleness, there was in Letty not a little of childlike greatness, born of faith.
But, although Mary would make Letty tell nothing, she was not the less anxious to discover, that she might, if possible, help. She would observe: side-lights often reveal more than direct illumination. It might be for Letty, and not for Mrs. Redmain, she had been sent. He who made time in time would show.
"Are you going to be long in London, Mary?" asked Letty.
"Oh, a long time!" answered Mary, with a loving glance.
Letty's eyes fell, and she looked troubled.
"I am so sorry, Mary," she said, "that I can not ask you to come here! We have only these two rooms, and--and--you see--Mrs. Helmer is not very liberal to Tom, and--because they--don't get on together very well--as I suppose everybody knows--Tom won't-- he won't consent to--to--"
"You little goose!" cried Mary; "you don't think I would come down on you like a devouring dragon, without even letting you know, and finding whether it would suit you!--I have got a situation in London."
"A situation!" echoed Letty. "What can you mean, Mary? You haven't left your own shop, and gone into somebody else's?"
"No, not exactly that," replied Mary, laughing; "but I have no doubt most people would think that by far the more prudent thing to have done."
"Then I don't," said Letty, with a little flash of her old enthusiasm. "Whatever you do, Mary, I am sure will always be the best."
"I am glad I have so much of your good opinion, Letty; but I am not sure I shall have it still, when I have told you what I have done. Indeed, I am not quite sure myself that I have done wisely; but, if I have made a mistake, it is from having listened to love more than to prudence."
"What!" cried Letty; "you're married, Mary?"
And here a strange thing, yet the commonest in the world, appeared; had her own marriage proved to Letty the most blessed of fates, she could not have shown more delight at the idea of Mary's. I think men find women a little incomprehensible in this matter of their friends' marriage: in their largerheartedness, I presume, women are able to hope for their friends, even when they have lost all hope for themselves.
"No," replied Mary, amused at having thus misled her. "It is neither so bad nor so good as that. But I was far from comfortable in the shop without my father, and kept thinking how to find a life, more suitable for me. It was not plain to me that my lot was cast there any longer, and one has no right to choose difficulty; for, even if difficulty be the right thing for you, the difficulty you choose can't be the right difficulty. Those that are given to choosing, my father said, are given to regretting. Then it happened that I fell in love--not with a gentleman--don't look like that, Letty--but with a lady; and, as the lady took a small fancy to me at the same time, and wanted to have me about her, here I am."
"But, surely, that is not a situation fit for one like you, Mary!" cried Letty, almost in consternation; for, notwithstanding her opposition to her aunt's judgment in the individual case of her friend, Letty's own judgments, where she had any, were mostly of this world. "I suppose you are a kind of--of--companion to your lady-friend?"
"Or a kind of lady's-maid, or a kind of dressmaker, or a kind of humble friend--something like a dog, perhaps--only not to be quite so much loved and petted; In truth, Letty, I do not know what I am, or what I am going to be; but I shall find out before long, and where's the use of knowing, any more than anything else before it's wanted?"
"You take my breath away, Mary! The thing doesn't seem at all like you! It's not consistent!--Mary Marston in a menial position! I can't get a hold of it!"
"You remind me," said Mary, laughing, "of what my father said to Mr. Turnbull once. They were nearer quarreling then than ever I saw them. You remember my father's way, Letty--how he would say a thing too quietly even to smile with it? I can't tell you what a delight it is to me to talk to anybody that knew him!--Mr. Turnbull imagined he did not know what he was about, for the thoughts my father was thinking could not have lived a moment in Mr. Turnbull. 'You see, John Turnbull,' my father said, 'no man can look so inconsistent as one whose principles are not understood; for hardly in anything will that man do as his friend must have thought he would.'--I suppose you think, Letty," Mary went on, with a merry air, "that, for the sake of consistency, I should never do anything but sell behind a counter?"
"In that case," said Letty, "I ought to have married a milkman, for a dairy is the only thing I understand. I can't help Tom ever so little!--But I suppose it wouldn't be possible for two to write poetry together, even if they were husband and wife, and both of them clever!"
"Something like it has been tried, I believe," answered Mary, "but not with much success. I suppose, when a man sets himself to make anything, he must have it all his own way, or he can't do it."
"I suppose that's it. I know Tom is very angry with the editor when he wants to alter anything he has written. I'm sure Tom's right, too. You can't think how much better Tom's way always is!- -He makes that quite clear, even to poor, stupid me. But then, you know, Tom's a genius; that's one thing there's no doubt of!--But you haven't told me yet where you are."
"You remember Miss Mortimer, of Durnmelling?"
"Quite well, of course."
"She is Mrs. Redmain now: I am with her."
"You don't mean it! Why, Tom knows her very well! He has been several times to parties at her house."
"And not you, too?" asked Mary.
"Oh, dear, no!" answered Letty, laughing, superior at Mary's ignorance. "It's not the fashion in London, at least for distinguished persons like my Tom, to take their wives to parties."
"Are there no ladies at those parties, then?"
"Oh, yes!" replied Letty, smiling again at Mary's ignorance of the world, "the grandest of ladies--duchesses and all. You don't know what a favorite Tom is in the highest circles!"
Now Mary could believe almost anything bearing on Tom's being a favorite, for she herself liked him a great deal more than she approved of him; but she could not see the sense of his going to parties without his wife, neither could she see that the height of the circle in which he was a favorite made any difference. She had old-fashioned notions of a man and his wife being one flesh, and felt a breach of the law where they were separated, whatever the custom--reason there could be none. But Letty seemed much too satisfied to give her any light on the matter. Did it seem to her so natural that she could not understand Mary's difficulty? She could not help suspecting, however, that there might be something in this recurrence of a separation absolute as death--for was it not a passing of one into a region where the other could not follow?--to account for the change in her.--The same moment, as if Letty divined what was passing in Mary's thought, and were not altogether content with the thing herself, but would gladly justify what she could not explain, she added, in the tone of an unanswerable argument:
"Besides, Mary, how could I get a dress fit to wear at such parties? You wouldn't have me go and look like a beggar! That would be to disgrace Tom. Everybody in London judges everybody by the clothes she wears. You should hear Tom's descriptions of the ladies' dresses when he comes home!"
Mary was on the verge of crying out indignantly, "Then, if he can't take you, why doesn't he stop at home with you?" but she bethought herself in time to hold her peace. She settled it with herself, however, that Tom must have less heart or yet more muddled brains than she had thought.
"So, then," reverted Letty, as if willing to turn definitively from the subject, "you are actually living with the beautiful Mrs. Redmain! What a lucky girl you are! You will see no end of grand people! You will see my Tom sometimes--when I can't!" she added, with a sigh that went to Mary's heart.
"Poor thing!" she said to herself, "it isn't anything much out of the way she wants--only a little more of a foolish husband's company!"
It was no wonder that Tom found Letty dull, for he had just as little of his own in him as she, and thought he had a great store--which is what sends a man most swiftly along the road to that final poverty in which even that which he has shall be taken from him.
Mary did not stay so long with Letty as both would have liked, for she did not yet know enough of Hesper's ways. When she got home, she learned that she had a headache, and had not yet made her appearance.
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