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Then first, and from that moment, Letty's troubles began. Up to this point neither she herself nor another could array troublous accusation or uneasy thought against her; and now she began to feel like a very target, which exists but to receive the piercing of arrows. At first sight, and if we do not look a long way ahead of what people stupidly regard as the end when it is only an horizon, it seems hard that so much we call evil, and so much that is evil, should result from that unavoidable, blameless, foreordained, preconstituted, and essential attraction which is the law of nature, that is the will of God, between man and woman. Even if Letty had fallen in love with Tom at first sight, who dares have the assurance to blame her? who will dare to say that Tom was blameworthy in seeking the society and friendship, even the love, of a woman whom in all sincerity he admired, or for using his wits to get into her presence, and detain her a little in his company? Reasons there are, infinitely deeper than any philosopher has yet fathomed, or is likely to fathom, why a youth such as he--foolish, indeed, but not foolish in this--and a sweet and blameless girl such as Letty, should exchange regards of admiration and wonder. That which thus moves them, and goes on to draw them closer and closer, comes with them from the very source of their being, and is as reverend as it is lovely, rooted in all the gentle potencies and sweet glories of creation, and not unworthily watered with all the tears of agony and ecstasy shed by lovers since the creation of the world. What it is, I can not tell; I only know it is not that which the young fool calls it, still less that which the old sinner thinks it. As to Letty's disobedience of her aunt's extravagant orders concerning Tom, I must leave that to the judgment of the just, reminding them that she was taken by surprise, and that, besides, it was next to impossible to obey them. But Letty found herself very uncomfortable, because there now was that to be known of her, the knowledge of which would highly displease her aunt--for which very reason, if for no other, ought she not to tell her all? On the other hand, when she recalled how unkindly, how unjustly her aunt had spoken, when she confessed her new acquaintance, it became to her a question whether in very deed she must tell her all that had passed that afternoon. There was no smallest hope of any recognition of the act, surely more hard than incumbent, but severity and unreason; must she let the thing out of her hands, and yield herself a helpless prey-- and that for good to none? Concerning Mrs. Wardour, she reasoned justly: she who is even once unjust can not complain if the like is expected of her again.
But, supposing it remained Letty's duty to acquaint her aunt with what had taken place, and not forgetting that, as one of the old people, I have to render account of the young that come after me, and must be careful over their lovely dignities and fair duties, I yet make haste to assert that the old people, who make it hard for the young people to do right, may be twice as much to blame as those whom they arraign for a concealment whose very heart is the dread of their known selfishness, fierceness, and injustice. If children have to obey their parents or guardians, those parents and guardians are over them in the name of God, and they must look to it: if in the name of God they act the devil, that will not prove a light thing for their answer. The causing of the little ones to offend hangs a fearful woe about the neck of the causer. It were a hard, as well as a needless task, seeing there is One who judges, to set forth how far the child is to blame as toward the parent, where the parent first of all is utterly wrong, yea out of true relation, toward the child. Not, therefore, is the child free; obligation remains--modified, it may be, but how difficult, alas, to fulfill! And, whether Letty and such as act like her are excusable or not in keeping attentions paid them a secret, this sorrow for the good ones of them certainly remains, that, next to a crime, a secret is the heaviest as well as the most awkward of burdens to carry. It has to be carried always, and all about. From morning to night it hurts in tenderest parts, and from night to morning hurts everywhere. At any expense, let there be openness. Take courage, my child, and speak out. Dare to speak, I say, and that will give you strength to resist, should disobedience become a duty. Letty's first false step was here: she said to herself I can not, and did not. She lacked courage--a want in her case not much to be wondered at, but much to be deplored, for courage of the true sort is just as needful to the character of a woman as of a man. Had she spoken, she might have heard true things of Tom, sufficient so to alter her opinion of him as, at this early stage of their intercourse, to alter the set of her feelings, which now was straight for him. It may be such an exercise of courage would have rendered the troubles that were now to follow unnecessary to her development. For lack of it, she went about from that time with the haunting consciousness that she was one who might be found out; that she was guilty of what would go a good way to justify the hard words she had so resented. Already the secret had begun to work conscious woe. She contrived, however, to quiet herself a little with the idea, rather than the resolve, that, as soon as Godfrey came home, she would tell him all, confessing, too, that she had not the courage to tell his mother. She was sure, she said to herself, he would forgive her, would set her at peace with herself, and be unfair neither to Mr. Helmer nor to her. In the mean time she would take care--and this was a real resolve, not a mere act contemplated in the future--not to go where she might meet him again. Nor was the resolve the less genuine that, with the very making of it, rose the memory of that delightful hour more enticing than ever. How beautifully, and with what feeling, he read the lovely song! With what appreciation had he not expounded Milton's beautiful poem! Not yet was she capable of bethinking herself that it was but on this phrase and on that he had dwelt, on this and on that line and rhythm, enforcing their loveliness of sound and shape; while the poem, the really important thing, the drift of the whole--it was her own heart and conscience that revealed that to her, not the exposition of one who at best could understand it only with his brain. She kept to her resolve, nevertheless; and, although Tom, leaving his horse now here now there, to avoid attracting attention, almost every day visited the oak, he looked in vain for the light of her approach. Disappointment increased his longing: what would he not have given to see once more one of those exquisite smiles break out in its perfect blossom! He kept going and going--haunted the oak, sure of some blessed chance at last. It was the first time in his life he had followed one idea for a whole fortnight.
At length Godfrey came. But, although all the time he was away Letty had retained and contemplated with tolerable calmness the idea of making her confession to him, the moment she saw him she felt such confession impossible. It was a sad discovery to her. Hitherto Godfrey, and especially of late, had been the chief source of the peace and interest of her life, that portion of her life, namely, to which all the rest of it looked as its sky, its overhanging betterness--and now she felt before him like a culprit: she had done what he might be displeased with. Nay, would that were all! for she felt like a hypocrite: she had done that which she could not confess. Again and again, while Godfrey was away, she had flattered herself that the help the objectionable Tom had given her with her task would at once recommend him to Godfrey's favorable regard; but now that she looked in Godfrey's face, she was aware--she did not know why, but she was aware it would not be so. Besides, she plainly saw that the same fact would, almost of necessity, lead him to imagine there had been much more between them than was the case; and she argued with herself, that, now there was nothing, now that everything was over, it would be a pity if, because of what she could not help, and what would never be again, there should arise anything, however small, of a misunderstanding between her cousin Godfrey and her.
The moment Godfrey saw her, he knew that something was the matter; but there had been that going on in him which put him on a false track for the explanation. Scarcely had he, on his departure for London, turned his back on Thornwick, ere he found he was leaving one whom yet he could not leave behind him. Every hour of his absence he found his thoughts with the sweet face and ministering hands of his humble pupil. Therewith, however, it was nowise revealed to him that he was in love with her. He thought of her only as his younger sister, loving, clinging, obedient. So dear was she to him, he thought, that he would rejoice to secure her happiness at any cost to himself. Any cost? he asked-- and reflected. Yes, he answered himself--even the cost of giving her to a better man. The thing was sure to come, he thought--nor thought without a keen pang, scarcely eased by the dignity of the self-denial that would yield her with a smile. But such a crisis was far away, and there was no necessity for now contemplating it. Indeed, there was no certainty it would ever arrive; it was only a possibility. The child was not beautiful, although to him she was lovely, and, being also penniless, was therefore not likely to attract attention; while, if her being unfolded under the genial influences he was doing his best to make powerful upon her, if she grew aware that by them her life was enlarging and being tenfold enriched, it was possible she might not be ready to fall in love, and leave Thornwick. He must be careful, however, he said to himself, quite plainly now, that his behavior should lead her into no error. He was not afraid she might fall in love with him; he was not so full of himself as that; but he recoiled from the idea, as from a humiliation, that she might imagine him in love with her. It was not merely that he had loved once for all, and, once deceived and forsaken, would love no more; but it was not for him, a man of thirty years, to bow beneath the yoke of a girl of eighteen--a child in everything except outward growth. Not for a moment would he be imagined by her a courtier for her favor.
Thus, even in the heart of one so far above ordinary men as Godfrey, and that in respect of the sweetest of child-maidens, pride had its evil place; and no good ever comes of pride, for it is the meanest of mean things, and no one but he who is full of it thinks it grand. For its sake this wise man was firmly resolved on caution; and so, when at last they met, it was no more with that abandon of simple pleasure with which he had been wont to receive her when she came knocking at the door of his study, bearing clear question or formless perplexity; and his restraint would of itself have been enough to make Letty, whose heart was now beating in a very thicket of nerves, at once feel it impossible to carry out her intent--impossible to confess to him any more than to his mother; while Godfrey, on his part, perceiving her manifest shyness and unwonted embarrassment, attributed them altogether to his own wisely guarded behavior, and, seeing therein no sign of loss of influence, continued his caution. Thus the pride, which is of man, mingled with the love, which is of God, and polluted it. From that hour he began to lord it over the girl; and this change in his behavior immediately reacted on himself, in the obscure perception that there might be danger to her in continued freedom of intercourse: he must, therefore, he concluded, order the way for both; he must take care of her as well as of himself. But was it consistent with this resolve that he should, for a whole month, spend every leisure moment in working at a present for her--a written marvel of neatness and legibility?
Again, by this meeting askance, as it were, another disintegrating force was called into operation: the moment Letty knew she could not tell Godfrey, and that therefore a wall had arisen between him and her, that moment woke in her the desire, as she had never felt it before, to see Tom Helmer. She could no longer bear to be shut up in herself; she must see somebody, get near to somebody, talk to somebody; her secret would choke her otherwise, would swell and break her heart; and who was there to think of but Tom--and Mary Marston?
She had never once gone to the oak again, but she had not altogether avoided a certain little cobwebbed gable-window in the garret, from which it was visible; neither had she withheld her hands from cleaning a pane in that window, that through it she might see the oak; and there, more than once or twice, now thickening the huge limb, now spotting the grass beneath it, she had descried a dark object, which could be nothing else than Tom Helmer on the watch for herself. He must surely be her friend, she reasoned, or how would he care, day after day, to climb a tree to look if she were coming--she who was the veriest nobody in all other eyes but his? It was so good of Tom! She would call him Tom; everybody else called him Tom, and why shouldn't she--to herself, when nobody was near? As to Mary Marston, she treated her like a child! When she told her that she had met Tom at Durnmelling, and how kind he had been, she looked as grave as if it had been wicked to be civil to him; and told her in return how he and his mother were always quarreling: that must be his mother's fault, she was sure-it could not be Tom's; any one might see that at a glance! His mother must be something like her aunt! But, after that, how could she tell Mary any more? It would not be fair to Tom, for, like the rest, she would certainly begin to abuse him. What harm could come of it? and, if harm did, how could she help it! If they had been kind to her, she would have told them everything, but they all frightened her so, she could not speak. It was not her fault if Tom was the only friend she had! She would ask his advice; he was sure to advise her just the right thing. He had read that sonnet about the wise virgin with such feeling and such force, he must know what a girl ought to do, and how she ought to behave to those who were unkind and would not trust her.
Poor Letty! she had no stay, no root in herself yet. Well do I know not one human being ought, even were it possible, to be enough for himself; each of us needs God and every human soul he has made, before he has enough; but we ought each to be able, in the hope of what is one day to come, to endure for a time, not having enough. Letty was unblamable that she desired the comfort of humanity around her soul, but I am not sure that she was quite unblamable in not being fit to walk a few steps alone, or even to sit still and expect. With all his learning, Godfrey had not taught her what William Marston had taught Mary; and now her heart was like a child left alone in a great room. She had not yet learned that we must each bear his own burden, and so become able to bear each the burden of the other. Poor friends we are, if we are capable only of leaning, and able never to support.
But the moment Letty's heart had thus cried out against Mary, came a shock, and something else cried out against herself, telling her that she was not fair to her friend, and that Mary, and no other, was the proper person to advise with in this emergency of her affairs. She had no right to turn from her because she was a little afraid of her. Perhaps Letty was on the point of discovering that to be unable to bear disapproval was an unworthy weakness. But in her case it came nowise of the pride which blame stirs to resentment, but altogether of the self- depreciation which disapproval rouses to yet greater dispiriting. Praise was to her a precious thing, in part because it made her feel as if she could go on; blame, a misery, in part because it made her feel as if all was of no use, she never could do anything right. She had not yet learned that the right is the right, come of praise or blame what may. The right will produce more right and be its own reward--in the end a reward altogether infinite, for God will meet it with what is deeper than all right, namely, perfect love. But the more Letty thought, the more she was sure she must tell Mary; and, disapprove as she might, Mary was a very different object of alarm from either her aunt or her cousin Godfrey.
The first afternoon, therefore, on which she thought her aunt could spare her, she begged leave to go and see Mary. Mrs. Wardour yielded it, but not very graciously. She had, indeed, granted that Miss Marston was not like other shop-girls, but she did not favor the growth of the intimacy, and liked Letty's going to her less than Mary's coming to Thornwick.
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