A week or two after I dropped the letter I was in a hansom on my way to certain barracks when loud above the city’s roar I heard that accursed haw-haw-haw, and there they were, the two of them, just coming out of a shop where you may obtain pianos on the hire system. I had the merest glimpse of them, but there was an extraordinary rapture on her face, and his head was thrown proudly back, and all because they had been ordering a piano on the hire system.
So they were to be married directly. It was all rather contemptible, but I passed on tolerantly, for it is only when she is unhappy that this woman disturbs me, owing to a clever way she has at such times of looking more fragile than she really is.
When next I saw them, they were gazing greedily into the window of the sixpenny-halfpenny shop, which is one of the most deliciously dramatic spots in London. Mary was taking notes feverishly on a slip of paper while he did the adding up, and in the end they went away gloomily without buying anything. I was in high feather. “Match abandoned, ma’am,” I said to myself; “outlook hopeless; another visit to the Governesses’ Agency inevitable; can’t marry for want of a kitchen shovel.”
But I was imperfectly acquainted with the lady.
A few days afterward I found myself walking behind her. There is something artful about her skirts by which I always know her, though I can’t say what it is. She was carrying an enormous parcel that might have been a bird-cage wrapped in brown paper, and she took it into a bric-a-brac shop and came out without it. She then ran rather than walked in the direction of the sixpenny-halfpenny shop. Now mystery of any kind is detestable to me, and I went into the bric-a-brac shop, ostensibly to look at the cracked china; and there, still on the counter, with the wrapping torn off it, was the article Mary had sold in order to furnish on the proceeds. What do you think it was? It was a wonderful doll’s house, with dolls at tea downstairs and dolls going to bed upstairs, and a doll showing a doll out at the front door. Loving lips had long ago licked most of the paint off, but otherwise the thing was in admirable preservation; obviously the joy of Mary’s childhood, it had now been sold by her that she might get married.
“Lately purchased by us,” said the shopwoman, seeing me look at the toy, “from a lady who has no further use for it.”
I think I have seldom been more indignant with Mary. I bought the doll’s house, and as they knew the lady’s address (it was at this shop that I first learned her name) I instructed them to send it back to her with the following letter, which I wrote in the shop: “Dear madam, don’t be ridiculous. You will certainly have further use for this. I am, etc., the Man Who Dropped the Letter.”
It pained me afterward, but too late to rescind the order, to reflect that I had sent her a wedding present; and when next I saw her she had been married for some months. The time was nine o’clock of a November evening, and we were in a street of shops that has not in twenty years decided whether to be genteel or frankly vulgar; here it minces in the fashion, but take a step onward and its tongue is in the cup of the ice-cream man. I usually rush this street, which is not far from my rooms, with the glass down, but to-night I was walking. Mary was in front of me, leaning in a somewhat foolish way on the haw-er, and they were chatting excitedly. She seemed to be remonstrating with him for going forward, yet more than half admiring him for not turning back, and I wondered why.