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George MacDonald.

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her.

Entering with a slight stoop from the waist, Sepia, with a
long, rapid, yet altogether graceful step, bore down upon Hes-
per like a fast-sailing cutter over broad waves, relaxing her
speed as she approached her.

^' Here I am, Hesper ! " she said.

'^ Sepia," said Hesper, *'I am sold."

Miss Yolland gave a little laugh, showing about the half of
her splendid teeth — a laugh to which Hesper was accustomed,
but the meaning of which she did not understand — nor would,
without learning a good deal that were better left unlearned.



THE HUMAN SACRIFICE. 119

" To Mr. Redmain, of course ! " she said.

Hesper nodded.

"When are you going to be — " — she was about to say *^cut
up," but there was a something occasionally visible in Ilesper
that now and then cliecked one of her less graceful coarse-
nesses. "When is the purchase to be completed ?'' slie asked,
instead.

"Good Heavens, Sepia ! don't be so heartless I"' cried Iles-
per. " Things are not (piite so bad as that I I am not yet in
the hell of knowing that. The day is not fixed for the great
rcMl dragon to make a meal of me."

"I see you were nut asleep in church, as I thouglit, all tlie
time of the sermon, last Sunday," said Sepia.

" I did my best, but I could not sleep : every time little
Mowbray mentioned the beast, I thought of Mr. Redmain ; and
it made me too miserable to sleej)."

"Poor Ilesper I — Well I let us hoi)e that, like the beast iu
the fairy-tale, he will turn out a man after all."

" My heart will break," cried Ilesixir, throwing herself into
a chair. " Pity me, Sepia ; you love me a little."

A slight shadow darkened yet more Sepia's shadowy
brow.

"Hesper," she said, gravely, *'you never told me there was
anything of that sort ! Who is it ?"

" Mr. Redmain, of course I — I don't know what you moan.
Sepia."

'' You said your heart was breaking : who is it for ?" asked
Sepia, almost imperiously, and raising her voice a little.

" Sepia ! " cried Hesper, in bewilderment.

"Why should your heart be breaking, except you loved
somebody ? "

"Because I hate 7/iw," answered Hesper.

"Pooh ! is that all ?" returned Miss Yolland. " K there
were anybody you wanted — then I grant ! "

"Sepia!" said Hesper, almost entreatingly, "I can not
bear to be teased to-day. Do be open with me. You always
puzzle me so I I don't understand you a bit better than the
first day you came to us. I have got used to you— that is all.



120 MAEY MARSTOK

Tell me — are you my friend, or are you in league with mamma ?
I have my doubts. I can't help it, Sepia."

She looked in her face pitifully. Miss Yolland looked at
her calmly, as if waiting for her to finish.

^^1 thought you would — not help me," Hesper went on,
'^ — that no one can except God — he could strike me dead;
but I did think you would feel for me a little. I hate Mr.
Eedmain, and I loathe myself. If yoio laugh at me, I shall
take poison."

^'1 wouldn't do that," returned Miss Yolland, quite grave-
ly, and as if she had already contemplated the alternative ;
" — ^that is, not so long as there was a turn of the game left."

"The game !" echoed Hesper. " — Playing for love with
the devil ! — I wish the game were yours, as you call it ! "

*^Mine I'd make it, if I had it to play," returned Sepia.
"I wish I were the other j^layer instead of you, but the man
hates me. Some men do. — Come," she went on, "I will be
open with you, Hesper ; you don't hang for thoughts in Eng-
land. I will tell you what I would do with a man I hated —
that is, if I was compelled to marry him ; it would hardly be
fair otherwise, and I have a weakness for fair play. — I would
give him absolute fair play."

The last three words she spoke with a strange expression of
mingled scorn and jest, then paused, and seemed to have said
all she meant to say.

'^Go on," sighed Hesper ; "you amuse me." Her tone ex-
pressed anything but amusement. " What would a woman of
your experience do in my place ? "

* Sej^ia fixed a momentary look on Hesper ; the words seemed
to have stung her. She knew well enough that, if Lady Malice
came to know anything of her real history, she would have
bare time to pack up her small belongings. She wanted Hes-
per married, that she might go with her into the world again ;
at the same time, she feared her marriage with Mr. Eedmain
would hardly favor her wishes. But she could not with pru-
dence do anything expressly to prevent it ; while she might
even please Mr. Eedmain a little, if she were supposed to have
used influence on his side. That, however, must not seem to



THE HUMAN SACRIFICE. 121

Ilesper. Sepia did not yet know in fact upon what ground slie
had to build.

For some time she had been trying to get nearer to Ilesper,
but — mucli like Ilesper's experience with her — had found her-
self strangely baffled, she could not tell how — the barrier being
simply the half innocence, half ignorance, of Ilesper. When
minds are not the same, words do not convey between tliem.

She gave a ringing laugh, throwing back her head, and
showing all her fine teeth.

'- You want to know what I would do with a man I hated,
as you my you hate :Mr. Redmain ?— I would send for liim at
once — not wait for him to come to me— and entreat him, as he
loved me, -to deliver me from the dire necessity of obeying my
fatlier. If lie were a gentlenum, as I hoi)e he may be, he would
manage to get me out of it somehow, and wouldn't compromise
me a hair's breadth. But, that is, if I were you. If I were my-
tirlf'm your circumstances, and hated him as you do, that would
not serve my turn. I would ask him all the same to set me
free, but 1 would behave myself so that he could not do it.
Wliile I begged him, I mean, I should make him feel that he
could not — should make him absolutely determined to marry
me, at any price to him, and at whatever cost to me. llo
should say to himself that I did not mean what I said — as, in-
deed, for the sake of my revenge, I should not. For that I
would give anything — sup})osing always, don't you know? that
I hated him as you do ^Ir. Kednuiin. He should declare to me
it was impossible ; that he would die rather than give up tho
most ])recious desire of his life — and all that rot, you know. I
would tell him 1 hated him— only so that he should not believe
me. I would say to him, * Release me, Mr. Redmain, or I will
make you re])ent it. I have given you fair warning. I have
told you I hated you.' lie should persist, should marry me,
and then I woidd.-^

"Would what?"

"Do as I said."

"But what?"

"Make him repent it."

With the words, Miss Yolland broke into a second fit of

6



122 MAEY MARSTOK

laugliter, and, turning from Hesper, went, with a kind of loi-
tering, strolling pace toward the door, glancing round more
than once, each time with a fresh bubble rather than ripple in
her laughter. Whether it was all nonsensical merriment, or
whether the author of laughter without fun, Beelzebub him-
self, was at the moment stirring in her, Hesper could not have
told ; as it was, she sat staring after her, unable even to think.
Just as she reached the door, however, she turned quickly, and,
witli the smile of a hearty, innocent child, or something very
like it, ran back to Hesper, threw her arms round her, and
said :

" There, now ! I've done for you what I could : I have made
you forget the odious man for a moment. I was curious to
know whether I could not make a bride forget her bridegroom.
The other thing is too easy."

^^AYhat other thing?"

"To make a bridegroom forget his bride, of course, you
silly child ! — But there I am, off again ! when really it is time
to be serious, and come to the only important point in the mat-
ter. — In what shade of purity do you think of ascending the
funeral pyre ? — In absolute white ? — or rose-tinged ? — or cream-
colored ! — or gold-suspect ? — Eh, happy bride ? "

As she ceased, she turned her head away, pulled out her
handkerchief, and whimpered a little.

"Sepia!" said Hesper, annoyed, "you are a worse goose
than I thought you ! Wliat have you got to cry about ? Yoit
have not got to marry him ! "

"No; I wish I had !" returned Sepia, wiping her eyes.
" Then I shouldn't lose 3'Ou. I should take care of that."

"And am I likely to gain such a friend in Mr. Eedmain as
to afford the loss of the only otliej' friend I have ?" said Hesper,
calmly.

"Ah, Hesper ! a sad experience has taught me differently.
The moment you are married to the man — as married you will be
— you all are — bluster as you may — that moment you will begin
to change into a wife — a domesticated animal, that is — a tame
tabby. Unwilling a woman must be to confess herself only the
better half of a low-bred brute, with a high varnish — or not, as



THE HUMAX SACRIFICE. 123

the case may be ; and there is nothing left her to do but set
herself to lind out the wreteh's virtues, or, as he hasn't got any,
to invent for him the least unlikely ones. She wants for her
own sake to believe in him, don't you know ? Then she begins
to rei:)ent having said hard words of the poor gentleman. The
next thing, of course, will be, that you begin to hate the person,
to whom you said them, and to persuade yourself she drew
them out of you ; and so you break off all communication
with the obnoxious person ; who being, in the present instance,
that black-faced sheep. Sepia Yolland, she is very sorry before-
hand, and hates Mr. Kedmain witli all her lieart ; first, because
Ilesper Mortimer hates him, and next, but twice as much, bo-
cause she is going to love him. It is a great pity you sliouUl
have him, Ilesper. I wish you would hand him over to me. /
shouldn't mind what he was. I should soon tame him."

*^ You ought to be ashamed of yourself/' said IIes})er, with
righteous indignation. *' Van wouUl not mind what he was ! "

Sepia laughed — this time her curious half-laugh.

"If I did, I wouldn't marry him, Jlcsper," she said.
'MV'hich is worse — not to mind, and marry him ; or to mind,
and marry him all the same ? Kh, Cousin Ilesper Mortimer ?"

** I canH make you out, Sepia ! " said Ilesper. *' I believe I
never shall. "

''Very likely, (iive it \\y ?"

''Quite."

"The best thing you could do. I can't always make my-
self out. But, then, I always give it up directly, and so it does
me no harm. lUit it's ten times worse to worry your i)oor lit-
tle heart to rags about such a man as that ; lie's not worth a
thought from a grand creature like you. Where's the use, be-
sides ? AVould you stand staring at your medicine a whole day
before the time for taking it comes ? I wouldn't have my right
leg cut off because that is the side my dog walks on, and dogs
go mad ! Slip, cup, and lip — don't you know ? The man may
be underground long before the wedding-day : he's anything
but sound, they tell me. But it would be far better soon after
it, of course. Think only — a young widow, rich, and not a
straw the worse ! "



124 MAJ2Y MARSTON.

'' Sepia, I can't for the life of me tell whether you are a
Job's comforter or the devil's advocate."

"Not the latter, my child ; for I want to see you emerge a
saint from the miseries of matrimony. But, v/hatever you do,
HesjDcr, don't break your heart, for you will find it hard to
mend. I broke mine once, and have been mad ever since."

"What is the use of saying that to me, when you know I
have to marry the man ? "

" I never said you were not to marry him ; I said you were
not to break your heart. ' Marriage is nothing so long as you
do not make a heart affair of it ; that hurts ; and, as you are
not in love, there is no occasion for it at all."

" Marriage is nothing. Sepia ! Is it nothing to be tied to a
man — to any man — for all your life ? "

"Tliat's as you take it. Nobody makes so much of it now-
adays as they used. The clergy themselves, who are at the
bottom of all the business, don't fuss about every trifle in the
prayer-book. They sign the articles, and have done with it —
meaning, of course, to break them, if they stand in their way."

Hesper rose in anger.

" How dare you — " she began.

" Good gracious ! " cried Sejiia, "you don't imagine I meant
anything so Avicked ! How could you let such a thing come
into your head ? I declare you are quite dangerous to talk to ! "

"It's such a horrible business," said Hesper, "it seems to
make one capable of anything wicked, only to think about it.
I would rather not say another word on the subject."

A shudder ran through her, as if at the sight of some hid-
eously offensive object.

" That would be the best thing," said Sepia, " if it meant
not think more about it. Everything is better for not being
thought about. I would do anything to comfort you, dear. I
would marry him for you, if that would do ; but I fear it would
scarcely meet the views of Herr Papa. If I could please tlie
beast as well — and I think I should in time — I would willingly
hand him the purchase-money. But, of course, he would scorn
to touch it, except as the proceeds of the hona-fide sale of his
own flesh and blood. "



UNGENEROUS BENEVOLENCE. 125

CHAPTER XIV.

UNGENEROUS BENEVOLENCE.

As the time went on, and Txtty saw notliing more of Tom,
she began to revive a little, and feel as if she were growing ^afe
again. The tide of temjjtation was ebbing away ; there would
be no more deceit ; never again would she place herself in cir-
cumstances Avhence might ari^e any necessity for concealment.
►She began, much too soon, alas I to feel as if she Avere new-
born ; nothing worthy of being called a new birth can take
place anywhere but in the will, and poor Letty's will was not
yet old enough to give birth to anything ; it scarcely, indeed,
existed. The past was rapidly receding, that was all, and luid
begun to look dead, and as if it wanted only to be buried out
of her sight. For what is done is done, in small faults as well
as in murders ; and, as nothing can recall it, or make it not Ixj,
where can be the good in thinking about it ? — a reasoning'
worse than dangerous, before one luis left oil being capable of
the same thing over again. Still, in the mere absence of re-
newed offense, it is well tliat some shadow of i)cacc sliould
retiirn ; else how should men remember the face of innocence ?
or how should tliey live long enough to learn to repent ? 15ut
for such breaks, would not some grow worse at full gallop ?

That the idea of Tom's friendshi]) was very pleasant to lier,
who can blame liei'? He had never said he loved her ; he had
only said she was lovely : was she therefore bound to })ersuade
herself he meant nothing at all ? Was it not as much as could
be required of her, that, in her modesty, she took him for no
more than a true, kind friend, who would gladly be of service
to her ? Ah ! if Tom had but been that ! If he was not, he
did not know it, which is something to say both for and against
him. It could not be other than pleasant to Letty to have one,
in her eyes so superior, who would talk to her as an equal. It
was not that ever she resented being taught ; but she did get
tn-ed of lessons only, beautiful as they were. A kiss from Mrs.
Wardour, or a little teaming from Cousin Godfrey, would have



126 MABY MARSTOK

done far more tlian all liis intellectual labor upon her to lift
her feet above such snares as she was now walking amid. She
needed some play — a thing far more important to life than a
great deal of what is called business and acquirement. Many
a matter, over which grown people look important, long-faced,
and consequential, is folly, compared with the merest child's
frolic, in relation to the true affairs of existence.

All the time, Letty had not in the least neglected her house-
duties ; and, again, her readings with her cousin Godfrey, since
Tom's apparent recession, had begun to revive in interest. He
grew kinder and kinder to her, more and more fatherly.

But the mother, once disquieted, had lost no time in taking
measures. In every direction, secretly, through friends, she
was inquiring after some situation suitable for Letty : she owed
it to herself, she said, to find for the girl the right thing, before
sending her from the house. In the true spirit of benevolent
tyranny, she said not a word to Letty of her design. She had
the chronic distemper of concealment, where Letty had but a
feverish attack. Much false surmise might have been correct-
ed, and much evil avoided, had she put it in Letty 's power to
show how gladly she would leave Thornwick. In the mean
time the old lady kept her lynx-eye upon the young people.

But Godfrey, having cauglit a certain expression in the said
eye, came to the resolution that thenceforth their schoolroom
should be the common sitting-room. This would aid him in
carrying out his resolve of a cautious and staid demeanor toward
his pupil. To preserve his freedom, he must keep himself
thoroughly in hand. Exj^erience had taught him that, were
he once to give way and show his affection, there would from
that moment be an end of teaching and learning. And yet so
much w^as he drawn to the girl, that, at this very time, he gave
her the manuscript of his own verses to which I have referred
— a volume exquisitely written, and containing, certainly, the
outcome of the best that was in him : he did not tell her tliat
he had copied them all with such care and neatness, and had
the book so lovelily bound, expressly and only for her eyes.

News of something that seemed likely to suit her ideas for
Letty at length came to Mrs. Wardour's ears, whereupon she



UNGENEROUS BENEVOLENCE. 127

thought it time to prepare the girl for the impending change.
One day, therefore, as she herself sat knitting one sock for
Godfrey, and Letty darning anotlier, she opened the matter.

^•I am getting old, Letty,'' she said, *^and you can't he
here always. You are a thoughtless creature, but I suppose
you have the sense to see that ? "

*'Ye3, indeed, aunt,'' answered Letty.
. '* It is high time you sliould be tliinking," Mrs. Wardour
went on, ^'how you are to earn your bread. If you left it till
I was gone, you would find it very awkward, for you would
have to leave Thornwick at once, and I don't know who wouUl
take you while you were looking out. I must sec you com-
fortably settled Ix^fore I go."

'^Yes, aunt."

*'Tliere arc nut many tilings you could do."

^^ No, aunt ; very few. But I sliould make a better house-
maid than most — I do Ix^lieve tliat."

**I am glad to find you willing to wtirk ; but we sball be
able, I trust, to do a little bettor for you tban tliat. A situa-
tion as housemaid w



Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldMary Marston. A novel → online text (page 11 of 40)