George MacDonald.

Mary Marston. A novel online

. (page 10 of 40)
Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldMary Marston. A novel → online text (page 10 of 40)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

down upon a stone between the wide street and the wide pave-
ment, and saw the moon shining gray upon the stone houses.
It was all deadncss.

Presently, from somewhere in the moonlight, appeared,
walking up to her, where she sat in eternal listlessness, tlie one
only brother she had ever had. She had lost him years and
years before, and now she saw him ; he was there, and she
knew him. But not a throb went through her lieart. He
came to her side, and slie gave liim no greeting. ** Why should
I heed him ? '' she said to herself. **IIe is dead. 1 am only
in a dream. This is not he ; it is but his pitiful i)hantom that
comes wandering hither — a ghost without a heart, made out of
the moonli;/ht. It is nothing. 1 am notliing. I am lost.
Everytliing is an emi)ty dream of 1 know it, and tliere
is no waking. If there were, surely the sight of him would
give me some shimmer of delight. The old time was but a
thicker dream, and this is truer because more shadowy."
And, the form still standing by her, she felt it wjus ages
away ; she was divided from it by a gulf of verv nothingness.
Her only life was, that she was lost. Her whole consciousness
was merest, all but abstract, loss.

Then came the form of her mother, and bent over that
of her brother from behind. ** Another ghost of a ghost !
anotlier shadow of a phantom I" she said to herself. *' She is
nothing to me. \i I speak to her, she is not there. Shall I
pour out my soul into the ear of a mist, a fume from my own
brain ? Oh, cold creatures, ye are not what ye seem, and I
will none of you ! "

With that, came her fatlicr, and stood beside the others,
gazing upon her with still, cold eyes, expressing only a pale
quiet. She bowed her face on her hands, and would not re-
gard him. Even if he were alive, her heart was past being
moved. It was settled into stone. The universe was sunk in
one of the dreams that haunt the sleep of death ; and, if theso
were ghosts at all, they were ghosts walking in their sleep.

But the dead, one of them seized one of her hands, and


another the other. They raised her to her feet, and led her
along, and her brother walked before. Thus was she borne
away captiye of her dead, neither willing nor unwilling, of
life and death equally careless. Through the moonlight they
led her from the city, and over fields, and through yalleys, and
across riyers and seas — a long journey ; nor did she grow
weary, for there was not life enough in her to be made weary.
The dead never spoke to her, and she never spoke to them.
Sometimes it seemed as if they spoke to each other, but, if it
were so, it concerned some shadowy matter, no more to her
than the talk of grasshoppers in the field, or of beetles that
weave their much- involved dances on the face of the pool.
Their voices were even too thin and remote to rouse her to

They came at length to a great mountain, and, as they were
going up the mountain, light began to grow, as if the sun
were beginning to rise. But she cared as little for the sun
that was to light the day as for the moon that had lighted the
night, and closed her eyes, that she might cover her soul with
her eyelids.

Of a sudden a great splendor burst upon her, and through
her eyelids she was struck blind — blind with light and not with
darkness, for all was radiance about her. She was like a fish
in a sea of light. But she neither loved the light nor mourned
the shadow.

Then were her ears invaded with a confused murmur, as of
the mingling of all sweet sounds of the earth — of wind and
water, of bird and voice, of string and metal — all afar and
indistinct. Next arose about her a whispering, as of winged
insects, talking with human voices ; but she listened to no-
thing, and heard nothing of what was said : it was all a tiresome
dream, out of which whether she waked or died it mattered

Suddenly slic was taken between two hands, and lifted, and
seated upon knees like a child, and she felt that some one was
looking at her. Then came a voice, one that she never heard
before, yet with which she was as familiar as with the sound of
the blowing wind. And the voice said, ^* Poor child ! some-



thing has closed the valve hetween her heart and mine." With
that came a pang of intense pain. But it was her own cry of
speechless delight that woke her from her dream.



The same wind that rushed about the funeral of William
Marston in the old churchyard of Testbridge, howled in tlie roof-
less hall and ruined tower of Durnmelling, and dashed against
the i)latc-glass windows of the dining-room, where the three
hidies sat at luncli. Immediately it was over, Ladv Malice
rose, saying :

*niesper, I want a wi»rd with y(ju. Come to mv room."

Ilesper obeyed, witli calmness, but without a doubt that
evil awaited her there. To tliat room she had never been sum-
moned for anything she could call good. And indeed she knew
well enough what evil it was tliat to-day i)lay('d the Minotaur.
M'lion they reached the boudoir, rightly so called, for it was
more in use for sulk-iiuj than for anything else, l^idy Margaret,
with back as straight as the door she had just closed, led the
way to the fire, and, seating herself, motioned Ilesper to a chair.
Ilesper again obeyed, looking as unconcerned as if she cared
for nothing in this world or in any other. Would we were all as
strong to sup])ress hate and fear and anxiety as some ladies are
to suppress all show of thein I Such a woman looks to me like
an automaton, in which a human soul, somewhere concealed,
tries to ])lay a good game of life, and makes a sad mess of it.

" Well, Ilesper, what do you think ? " said her mother, with
a dull attempt at gayety, which could nowise impose upon the
experience of her daughter.

^'I think nothing, mamma," drawled Ilesper.

^' Mr. Redmain has come to the point at last, my dear child."

*' What point, mamma ?"


*^He had a priyate interview with your father this morn-


" Foolish girl ! you think to tease me by pretending indif-
ference ! "

" How can a fact be pretended^ mxamma ? Why should I care
what passes in the study ? I was never welcome there. But,
if you wish, I will pretend. What important matter was set-
tled in the study this morning ? "

" Hesper, you provoke me with your affectation ! "

Hesper's eyes began to flash. Otherwise she was still —
silent — not a feature moved. The eyes are more untamable
than the tongue. When the wild beast can not get out at the
door, nothing can keep him from the windows. The eyes flash
when the will is yet lord even of the lines of the mouth. Not
a nerve of Hesper's quivered. Though a mere child in the
knowledge that concerned lier own being, even the knowledge
of what is commonly called the heart, she was yet a mistress of
the art of self-defense, socially applied, and she would not now
put herself at the disadvantage of taking anything for granted,
or accept the clearest hint for a plain statement. She not
merely continued silent, but looked so utterly void of interest,
or desire to speak, that her mother, recognizing her own child,
and quailing before the evil spirit she had herself sent on to
the generation's to come, yielded and sjioke out.

"Mr. Redmain has proposed for your hand, Hesper," she
said, in a tone as indifferent in her turn as if she were men-
tioning the appointment of a new clergyman to the family

For one moment, and one only, the repose of Hesper's
faultless upper lip gave way ; one writhing movement of scorn
passed along its curves, and left them for a moment straight-
ened out — to return presently to a grander bend than before.
In a tone that emulated, and more than equaled, the indiffer-
ence of her mother's, she answered :

" And papa ? "

"Has referred him to you, of course," replied Lady



" Meaning it ? "

** What else ? Why not ? Is he not a hon parti? ''

**Then papa did not mean it ?"

"I do not understand yon," elaborated the mother, with a
mingled yawn, which she was far from attempting to suppress,
seeing she simulated it.

''If Mr. Redmain is such a good match in papa's eyes,"
explained Ilesper, " wliy docs papa refer him to me ?"

** That you may accept him, of course."

" How much has the man promised to ]iay for me ? ''

'^ Ilcsper ! '^

*' I beg your j)ardon, mamma. I thouglit you approved of
calling tilings by their right names ! ''

" No girl can do bettor than follow her mother's example,'*
said Lady Margaret, with vague sequence. '* If you do, Hes-
]ier, you will accept Mr. Redmain."

Ilesper fixed her eyes on her mother, ])ut hers were too
cold and clear to quail before them, let them flash and burn jus
they pleased.

'* As you did papa ?" said Ibspcr.

''As I did Mr. Mortimer.''

"That explains a good deal, mamma."

"We are 7/our parents, anyhow, Ilesper."

" I suppose so. I don't know which to be sorrier for —
you or me. Tell me, tilitiithm : w.mld i/ou marrv ^\r. l?f«l-
main ? "

''That is a foolish (iiic-tion, and ought not to l)c jjut. It
is one which, as a married woman. I could not consider with-
out impropriety. Knowing the duty of a daughter, I did not
]nit the ((uostion to i/au. You are yourself the offspring of

'* If you were in my place, mamma," reattempted Ilesper,
but her mother did not allow her to proceed.

" In any place, in every place, I should do my duty," she said.

It was not only born in Lady Malice's blood, but from
earliest years had l)een impressed on her brain, that her first
duty was to her family, and mainly consisted in getting well
out of its way — in going peaceably through the fire to Moloch,


that the rest might have good places in the Temple of Mam-
mon. In her turn, she had trained her children to the be-
wildering conviction that it was duty to do a certain wrong, if
it should be required. That wrong thing was now required of
Hesper — a thing she scorned, hated, shuddered at ; she must
follow the rest ; her turn to be sacrificed was come ; she must
henceforth be a living lie. She could recompense herself as
the daughters who have sinned by yielding generally do when
they are mothers, with the sin of compelling, and thus make
the trespass round and full. There is in no language yet the
word invented to fit the vileness of such mothers ; but, as time
flows and speech grows, it may be found, and, when it is found,
it will have action retrospective. It is a frightful thing when
ignorance of evil, so much to be desired where it can contrib-
ute to safety, is employed to smooth the way to the unholiest
doom, in which love itself must ruthlessly perish, and those,
who on the plea of virtue were kept ignorant, be perfected in
the image of the mothers who gave them over to destruction.
Some, doubtless, of the innocents thus immolated pass even
-through hideous fires of marital foulness to come out the purer
and the sweeter ; but whither must the stone about the neck
of those that cause the little ones to offend sink those moth-
ers ? What company shall in the end be too low, too foul
for them ? Like to like it must always be.

Hesper was not so ignorant as some girls ; she had for some
time had one at her side capable of casting not a little light of
the kind that is darkness.

^^ Duty, mamma!" she cried, her eyes flaming, and her
cheek flushed with the shame of the thing that was but as yet
the merest object in her thought ; '"'can a woman be born for
such things ? How could I — mamma, how could any woman,
with an atom of self-respect, consent to occupy the same —
room with Mr. Redmain ? "

' ' Hesper ! I am shocked. Where did you learn to speak,
not to say tliinlc, of such things ? Have I taken such pains —
good God ! you strike me dumb ! Have I watched my child
like a very — angel, as anxious to keep her mind pure as her
body fair, and is this the result ? "


Upon what Lady Margaret founded her claim to a result
more satisfactory to her maternal designs, it were hard to say.
For one thing, she had known nothing of what went on in her
nursery, positively nothing of the real character of the women
to whom she gave the charge of it ; and — although, I dare say,
for worldly women, Ilesper's schoolmistresses were quite re-
spectable — what did her mother, what could slie know of the
governesses or of the flock of sheep — all presumably, but how
certainly all white ? — into which she had sent her ?

"Is this the result ?" said Lady ^largaret.

*' Was it your object, then, to keep me innocent, only that
I might have the necessary lessons in wickedness first from my
husband?" said Ilesper, with a rudeness for which, if an
apology be necessary, I leave my reader to find it.

"Hcsper, you are vulgar I" said Lady >Largaret, with cold
indignation, and an exj)ression of unfeigned disgust. She was,
indeed, genuinely shocked. Tluit a young lady of Ilesper's
birth and position sliould talk like this, actually objecting to
a man as her husband because she recoiled from his wicked-
ness, of which she was not to be supposed to know, or to be
capable of understanding, anything, was a thing unheard of
in her world — a thing unniaidenly in the extreme I What
innocent girl would or could or dared allude to such matters ?
She had no right to know an atom about them !

'* You are a nuirried woman, mamma," returned Ilesper,
"and therefore must know a great many things I neither
know nor wish to know. For anything I know, you may be
ever so much a better woman than I, for having learned not
to mind things that are a horror to me. But there was a time
when you shrunk from them as I do now. I appeal to you as a
woman : for God's sake, save me from marrving that wretch !'*

She spoke in a tone inconsistently calm.

" Girl I is it possible you dare to call the man, whom your
father and I have chosen for your husband, a wretch !"

"Is he not a wretch, mamma ?"

"If he were, how should I know it ? What has any lady
got to do with a man's secrets ? "

"Not if he wants to marry her daughter ?"


*^ Certainly not. If lie should not be altogether what he
ought to be — and which of us is ? — then you will have the
honor of reclaiming him. But men settle down when they

^' And what comes of their wives ?"
• '''What comes of women. You have your mother before
you, Hesper."

^' mother ! " cried Hesper, now at length losing the hor-
rible affectation of calm which she had been taught to regard
as cle rigueur, '*is it possible that you, so beautiful, so digni-
fied, would send me on to meet things you dare not tell me —
knowing they would turn me sick or mad ? How dares a man
like that even desire in his heart to touch an innocent girl ? "

'^ Because he is tired of the other sort," said Lady Malice,
half unconsciously, to herself. What she said to her daughter
was ten times worse : the one was merely a fact concerning
Eedmain ; the other revealed a horrible truth concerning her-
self. ''He will settle three thousand a year on you, Hesper,"
she said with a sigh ; "and you will find yourself mistress."

"I don't doubt it," answered Hesper, in bitter scorn.
'•' Such a man is incapable of making any woman a wife."

Hesper meant an awful spiritual fact, of which, with all her
ignorance of human nature, she had yet got a glimpse in her
tortured reflections of late ; but her mother's familiarity with
evil misinterpreted her innocence, and caused herself utter
dismay. What right had a girl to think at all for herself
in such matters ? These were things that must be done, not
thought of !

" These tilings must not be thought
After these ways; so, they will drive us mad."

Yes, these things are hard to think about — harder yet to
write about ! The very persons who would send the white soul
into arms whose mere touch is a dishonor will be the first to
cry out with indignation against that writer as shameless who
but utters the truth concerning tlie things they mean and do :
they fear lest their innocent daughters, into whose hands his
books might chance, by ill luck, to fall, should learn that it is


their business to keep themselves pure. — Ah, s^-eet mothers !
do not be afraid. You have brought them up so carefully,
that they suspect you no more than they do the well-bred gen-
tlemen you would have them marry. And have they not your
blood in them ? That will go far. Never heed tlie foolish
puritan. Your mothers succoeded with you : you will succeed
with your daughters.

But it is a shame to speak of those things that are done of
you in secret, and 1 will forbear. Thank God, the day will
come — it may be thousands of years away — jvhen there sliall be
no such things for a man to think of, any more tluin for a girl
to shudder at ! There is a i)urification in progress, and the
kingdom of heaven tcill come, thanks to the Man who was
holy, harmless, undeliled, and separate from sinners. You
have heard a little, probably only a little, about him at clmrcli
sometimes. But, wlu-n that day comes, what i)art will you have
had ill causing evil to cease from the earth ?

There had been a time in the mother's life when she her-
self regarded her aj)proaehiMg nuirriage, with a man she did not
love, as a horror to which her natural maidenliness — a thing
she could not help — had to be compelled and subjected : of the
true maidenliness — that before which the angels make obei-
sance, and the lion cowers — she never had had any ; for that
must be gained by the pure will yielding itself to the ])ower of
the highest. Hence she had not merely got used to the horror,
but in a measure satisfied with it ; never suspecting, because
never caring enough, that she had at the same time, and that
not very gradually, been assimilating to the horror ; had lost
much of what purity she had once had, and become herself un-
clean, body and mind, in the contact with uncleanness. One
thing she did know, and that swallowed up all the rest — that
her husband's affairs were so involved as to threaten absolute
poverty ; and what woman of the world would not count
damnation better than that ? — while Mr. Rcdmain was rolling
in money. Had she known everything bad of her daughter's
suitor, short of legal crime, for her this would have covered it

In Ilesper's useless explosion the mother did not fail to


recognize the presence of Sepia, without whose knowledge of
the bad side of the world, Hesper, she believed, could not have
been awake to so much. But she was afraid of Sepia. Besides,
the thing was so far done ; and she did not think she would
work to thwart the marriage. On that point she would speak
to her.

But it was a doubtful service that Sepia had rendered her
cousin — to rouse her indignation and not her strength ; to
wake horror without hinting at remedy ; to give knowledge
of impending doom, without poorest suggestion of hope, or
vaguest shadow of possible escape. It is one thing to see things
as they are ; to be consumed with indignation at the wrong ;
to shiver with aversion to the abominable ; and quite another
to rouse the will to confront the devil, and resist him until he
flee. For this the whole education of Hesper had tended to
unfit her. What she had been taught — and that in a world
rendered possible only by the self-denial of a God — was to drift
with the stream, denying herself only that divine strength of
honest love, which would soonest help her to breast it.

For the earth, it is a blessed thing that those who arrogate
to themselves the holy name of society, and to whom so large
a portion of the foolish world willingly yields it, are in reality
so fcAV and so ephemeral. Mere human froth are they, worked
up by the churning of the world-sea — rainbow-tinted froth,
lovely thinned water, weaker than the unstable itself out of
which it is blown. Great as their ordinance seems, it is evan-
escent as arbitrary : the arbitrary is but the slavish puffed up
— and is gone with the hour. The life of the people is below ;
it ferments, and the scum is for ever being skimmed off, and
cast — God knows where. All is scum whore will is not. They
leave behind them influences indeed, but few that keep their
vitality in shapes of art or literature. There they go — little
sparrows of the human world, chattering eagerly, darting on
every crumb and seed of supposed advantage ! while from be-
hind the great dustman's cart, the huge tiger-cat of an eternal
law is creeping upon them. Is it a spirit of insult that leads
me to such a comparison ? Where human beings do not, will
not luill, let them be ladies gracious as the graces, the com-


parison is to the disadvantage of the sparrows. Xot time, but
experience will show that, although indeed a simile, this is no

"I will leave your father to deal with you, Ilosper," said
her mother, and rose.

Up to this point, Mortimer children had often resisted their
mother ; beyond tliis jwint, never more than once.

'^ Xo, please, mamma I" returned Ilesper, in a tone of ex-
postulation. '' I have spoken my mind, but that is no treason.
As my father has referred Mr. Kedmain to me, I would rather
deal with him."

Lady Malice was herself afraid of her liusband. Tliere is
many a woman, otherwise courageous enough, wlio will rather
endure the worst and most degrading, than encounter articu-
late insult. Tlie mere lack of conscience gives the scoundrel
advantage inealeulable over the honest man ; the lack of refine-
ment gives a similar advantage to the cad over the gentleman ;
the combination of tlie two lacks elevates the husband and
father into an autocrat. Jlesper was not one lier world would
have counted weak ; she liad j)hysieal courage enough ; slie
rode Will, and without fear; she sat calm in the dentist's
chair ; she would have fought with knife and j)istol against
violence to the death ; and yet, rather than encounter tlie bru-
tality of an evil-begotten race concentrated in her father, she
would yield herself to a detllement eternally more deliling than
that she would both kill and die to escape.

'' Give me a few hours first, mamma," she begged. '*' Don't
let him come to me just yet. For all your liardncss, you feel
a little for me — don't you ?"

^' Duty is always hard, my child," said Lady Margaret.
She entirely believed it, and looked on herself as a martyr, a
pattern of self-devotion and womanly virtue. But, had she
been certain of escaping discovery, she would have slipped the
koh-i-noor into her belt-pouch, notwithstanding. Never once
in her life had she done or abstained from doing a thing because
that thing was right or was wrong. Such a person, be she as
old and as hard as the hills, is mere putty in the fingers of


Hesper rose and went to lier own room. There, for a long
hour, she sat — with the skin of her fair face drawn tight oyer
muscles rigid as marhle — sat without moving, almost without
thinking — in a mere hell of disgusted anticipation. She neither
stormed nor wept ; her life Yfent smoldering on ; she nerved
herself to a brave endurance, instead of a far braver resistance.

I fancy Hesper would have been a little shocked if one had
called her an atheist. She went to church most Sundays —
when in the country ; for, in the opinion of Lady Margaret, it
was not decorous there to omit the ceremony : where you have
influence you ought to set a good example — of hypocrisy,
namely ! But, if any one had suggested to Hesper a certain old-j
fashioned use of her chamberrdoor, she would have in^^ardly
laughed at the absurdity. But, then, you see, her chamber
was no closet, but a large and stately room ; and, besides, how,]
alas ! could the child of Eoger and Lady M. Alice Mortimer]
know that in the silence was hearing — that in the vacancy Wi
a power waiting to be sought ? Hesper was not much alone,
and here was a chance it was a pity she should lose ; but, when
she came to herself with a sigh, it was not to pray, and, when
she rose, it was to ring the bell.

A good many minutes passed before it was answered. She
paced the room — swiftly ; she could sit, but she could not walk
slowly. With her hands to her head, she went sweeping up
and down. Her maid's knock arrested her before her toilet-
table, with her back to the door. In a voice of perfect com-
posure, she desired the woman to ask Miss Yolland to come to

Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldMary Marston. A novel → online text (page 10 of 40)