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Because there's no such thing as being too on the nose in this story, Book 2, Chapter 1 opens with another Biblical epigraph, the one that gives us the book title: “Thou shalt be stedfast, and shalt not fear: because thou shalt forget thy misery, and remember it as waters that pass away.” (Job 11:15-16)

It's springtime as the curtain rises, but a shadow hangs over Helen Galbraith, who should be enjoying the “fresh, new life which she knew was all about her,” except for the concentrated evil that had settled over her since Westmore had “taken possession” of her. (At least that settles what happened in those missing hours...right? Right? Damn it, these euphemisms are driving me nuts! It makes it sound like she defaulted on a mortgage!)

Of course, nobody could be told. Nobody. Silence has worked so well up to this point, so why stop now? If she told Alex, he would not only bring an end to her work, but probably the relationship, too. “What now became of her was of no consequence. Galbraith and his short remaining life alone were of consequence.” As for Westmore, the initial plan was to never speak to him again, but he made it clear as crystal that he held all the cards, baby, and if she didn't play the game on his terms, say goodbye to that position at Mr. Elliott's paper. And really, it's not like a published columnist could ever find another job in the New York market if she got fired. Because that would mean it's a highly competitive market, and in that direction lies the mouth of madness! (*snicker*...yeah, I know, "play along, for the love of God!")

Even her friendship with the Elliotts, that one speck of daylight in this newly sin-cursed world, was coated with a film of dread, since she got it by being a friend to the Devil. With that in mind, it's time for some more heart-pounding walking wounded action!

As Helen walked along Twenty-first Street this morning, no one meeting her could have failed to notice the extreme pallor of her face, and the great lassitude of body from which she was suffering. Her old dignity was there, but the tragedy of her life had written in indelible lines its story upon her face which was now beautiful only with a beauty that seemed to have nothing to do with youth, or freedom, or hope. Even rapid walking, and the cool, fresh morning air brought no color now to her soft, well-shaped cheeks; and her lips did not part with a smile at the sight of a child or a flower, as they had formerly been accustomed to do. In fact, Helen's beautiful face had really become almost painful to look upon! Her outward calm and dignity was only a mantle in which she wrapped a grief too deep and significant to be confided to any one. Helen was well aware of the painful change in her appearance, but this had not the power to trouble her. A terrible coldness like the coldness of death had descended upon her heart, reducing it to a state of fixed insensibility; the consciousness of this filled her at times with apprehensions as to her own sanity. Looking about her this morning she saw that the great city was filled with new life, with the rich, glad promise of summer. And yet these things did not move her—seemed in no way to concern her. She asked herself if she was never to get back her innocent, healthy joy in the simple things of nature—would she always remain cold, unmoved like this? As these questions arose in her mind, she felt more desperately alone than she remembered ever having felt before. Not even the sweet and cherished friendship of Mrs. Elliott could be to her what she wished it to be—what it should have been—because, after all, it was a stolen thing to which she had no right. (pp. 167-8)

And while all these morbid thoughts dragged their muddy feet through her imagination, she found herself in front of the Calvary Parish Church (that's what the author calls it, anyway) on Fourth Avenue, and the spirit (pardon me, The Spirit...not to be confused with The Spirit) moved her to go inside and pray.

Her head bowed in unconscious prayer as these thoughts took firm hold of her confused and disordered mind, clearing her vision and bringing back to life certain things which for a long time had been as dead in her. After all, had she not been entirely wrong in seeking to devise means of help out of her own resources instead of accepting the decrees of God? What agony is such a thought! It was too late indeed to retrace her steps, no matter how misdirected they had been! And there was no longer any doubt of it that her steps had been misdirected. She had found the wrong way, and had done her own soul irreparable injury, even though her only aim had been to protect and save Galbraith! This she had been coming to see more and more clearly from day to day; now she saw it fully and in all its broad relations, as it bore upon her own life and upon that of others. What then was left for her? Was she to find hardness alone as the essence of life, and was its iron band to be drawn closer and closer about her heart, crushing out love as well as hope? “No! No!” her spirit cried. “It could not be!” Life had once been too beautiful, too full of joy and trust and sweetness, too near to all of God's best things for it to go out in this way, in eternal darkness! Her beautiful head sank into the embrace of her arms, as they rested suppliantly upon the back of the pew over which she knelt, and in the quiet, deserted church Helen Galbraith's voice could have been heard, penetrating the silent naves and reaching to the very altar itself, as she cried out in anguish, “My God! My God! My God!” With that cry, the bands that held her a prisoner seemed to snap asunder, and compassion for herself, as great as that which she had felt for Galbraith, swept over her heart. (pp. 170-1)

She got just enough daylight in her heart to muster a prayer for guidance, which didn't turn off the self-pity faucet, but was probably a sign that something is about to happen (finally!).

That “something” comes to us in the form of a sad tale which had come to the attention of a party of women gathered in Mrs. Elliott's parlor for the purpose of “practical, philanthropic work.” “In a great city like New York, Mrs. Elliott argued, there must be many women, outside of the pronouncedly bad, who, baffled and stunned morally, could be reached in some way.” As if that wasn't too close to the knuckle, considering that Helen Galbraith was part of the clique now, their goal was to help those women “who were openly recognized as having fallen away from their natural heritage of sweetness and purity.” For that reason, the case of Mary Levier attracted their attention.

To give you the Reader's Digest version, Mary Levier was a servant in the home of a mutual friend and was engaged to a young mechanic. They seemed to be in love until the young man talked Mary into going to a picnic on the Hudson River...alone. Cue dramatic music.

After the day in question, she became more and more morose and “morbid,” and her young man, who was once only a weekly visitor, made nightly visits to attempt to see her...always in vain. Then one day the girl offered her resignation to the lady of the house and the whole awful story spilled out of her: the picnic ended with the young man “overstepping the line,” and now she hated him passionately, even though he wanted to marry her. Yep, he took possession. On her own 30 yard line, yet.

Even after it became clear she had a baby on board, she wasn't about to accept even a cent of support...which is a honkin' great surprise, since I've been led to believe that the best way to hurt somebody you hate is to soak them for everything you can get. Or maybe I've been watching too many judge shows...

Mrs. Elliott concludes the story, then asks the big money question: “Now, I want to know how one is to reach and influence the moral nature of a girl like that. From my point of view, Mary Levier, servant girl as she is, has a right to some kind of life in harmony with the demands of her own spiritual nature. But how to make her see this; how to help her adjust her fine moral sense to the actual and the practical needs of her own life and those of her child; how to do something like this for her—and other women who are striving to straighten out any crookedness that a weak or evil nature has brought into their lives—this is the great question which is always pressing itself upon me.” (p. 175) Admittedly, Miss Levier is in a fix, since it was a bad day and age to be an unwed mother. So it shouldn't be surprising that, even though the Meddling Wives Guild has the best of intentions, parts of the ensuing debate on the best approach seem...well, a bit off to modern eyes.

“Now there is a side to this question which none of us seem inclined to look at,” remarked Mrs. Wellmead, one of the sturdiest and most faithful of Mrs. Elliott's friends, yet one who thought that all women in these modern days needed to be called back a little, and kept close to the old-time ideal of domestic life.

“There is the man,” she said, raising a laugh at once, because her friends knew that she was never willing to have the men ignored or neglected. “No one seems inclined to think of that poor soul whom this girl's sensitiveness, as you put it, or perverseness as some might call it, has nearly driven to insanity. Is it not a question of how much she owes him, as well as herself?”

“Yes, it is a question, Mrs. Wellmead,” replied Mrs. Elliott, “and a very important one, I know. But Mary up to this time has been unable to look at that. Possibly, after a little, she may reach that point. However, it will depend very much, I think, upon what kind of development she gets out of her present experience.” As Mrs. Elliott spoke, she stretched out her right hand and placed it upon Helen's knee.

“Don't you think that it is true, dear?” she asked of Helen, turning to her.

“Yes, entirely true,” said Helen. “At present, evidently, she can think of no one's suffering but her own.” (pp. 178-9)

Pot, meet kettle. Yeah, he's black...wanna fight about it? But when they decide that Mrs. Galbraith and her “Madonna-like face” would be the key to the girl's confidence, the thought of being pressed into service works up such a distress in Helen that they decide not to push the matter any further. But after attending to the day's business for the paper—inspecting a collection of etchings at Keppel's on Sixteenth Street—she sings a subtly different tune.

“Now let me show you something, Mrs. Galbraith!”

Helen drew near to the portfolio, in which was placed the priceless treasure which the young man regarded so earnestly, and stooping a little to decipher the artist's name, she stretched out her hand, saying:

“Do let me see it! Poor Meryon! One of the immortals!” and taking the print from Turner's hand, she scanned it with an intensity of observation, which entirely satisfied the young man.

“I see,” said he, “that you are one of the initiated. I need not tell you anything here.”

“Yes,” she replied simply, holding the print well off from her, that she might see it to better advantage; adding:

“I can only think with the uttermost pain of the sorrowful, tragic story of that man's life. What a struggle! What a conflict! It is very fine,” she added, handing back the print to Turner.

“A splendid imagination is displayed in it,” said the young artist.

“Yes, and in its harmony quite at variance with his own broken life.” Her voice trembled with emotion; the little print had brought so vividly before her the career of her own husband.

“That remark quite accords,” replied Turner, “with what Mr. Hammerton says of him, that 'his work was sanity itself.' It only goes to prove more conclusively how very sensitive and delicate is the genuine artistic temperament; and how, though endowed with splendid power, a man of such temperament, when badly circumstanced, is likely to be utterly worsted in the struggle.”

“That is only another way of saying,” replied Helen, “that the people of the finest natures seem born to the greatest pain—or that nearly all life of any consequence is mostly suffering.” Then she walked away, pale and trembling, while St. George Turner, the healthy young enthusiast, was left staring after her wonderingly, regretting deeply that so interesting a young woman should be spoiled by taking too pessimistic a view of things. (pp. 182-3)

While this isn't enough to drag her out of her bottomless well of self-pity, she does finally decide to try and visit Mary Levier, although philanthropy isn't her primary concern. “Helen's main thought [...] had been, that the girl might possibly be of help to her—might in some way help her to find the light. When, weary and worn, Helen took her way homeward at a late hour of the afternoon, she was conscious of a change in herself. If this visit had given her no glimpse of the light, it had proven to her that she had not entirely lost her power of helping and comforting others, which was certainly something to be thankful for, to rest upon for the present.” (p. 184)

How long do you think it'll be until the League of Meddling Wives realize they have a charity case in their midst? This is one of those shoes that's bound to drop eventually.

Next: More Tompson nonsense. And no, you won't have to wait a whole week for it this time.


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