Copyright
George MacDonald.

Mary Marston. A novel online

. (page 14 of 40)
Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldMary Marston. A novel → online text (page 14 of 40)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


came generally known.

]\rrs. Tlelmer Avas very angry, and did all she could to make
Tom break it off — it was so much below him ! But in nothing
could the folly of the woman have been more apparent than in
her fancying, with the experience of her life before her, that
any opposition of hers could be elTeetual otherwise than to the
confirmation of her son's will. So short-sighted Avas she as
to originate most of the reports to Letty's disadvantage ; but
Tom's behavior, on the other hand, was strong to put them
doAvn ; for the man is seldom found so faithful Avhere such re-
ports are facts.

Mrs. AVardour took care to say nothing unkind of Letty.
She was of her oavu family ; and, besides, not only was Tom a
better match than she couM have expected for her, but she was



154 MAEY MARSTON.

more than satisfied to have Godfrey's dangerous toy thus drawn
away beyond his reach. As soon as ever the doctor gave his
permission, she went to see her ; but, although, dismayed at
sight of her suffering face, she did not utter one unkind word,
her visit was so plainly injurious in its effects, that it was long
before Mary would consent to a repetition of it.

Letty's recovery was very slow. The spring was close at
hand before the bloom began to reappear — and then it was but
fitfully — in Letty's cheek. N"either her gayety nor her usual
excess of timorousness returned. A certain sad seriousness had
taken the place of both, and she seemed to look out from deeper
eyes. I can not think that Letty had begun to perceive that
there actually is a Nature shaping us to its own ends ; but I
think she had begun to feel that Mary lived in the conscious
presence of such a power. To Tom she behaved very sweetly,
but more like a tender sister than a lover, and Mary began to
doubt whether her heart was altogether Tom's. From mention
of approaching marriage, she turned with a nervous, uneasy
haste. Had the insight which the enforced calmness of suffer-
ing sometimes brings opened her eyes to anything in Tom ?
The doubt filled Mary with anxiety. She thought and thought,
until — delicate matter as it was to meddle with, and small en-
couragement as Godfrey Wardour had given her to expect
sympathy — she yet made up her mind to speak to him on the
subject — and the rather that she was troubled at the unwor-
thiness of his behavior to Letty : gladly would she have him
treat her with the generosity essential to the idea she had
formed of him.

She went, therefore, one Sunday evening, to Thornwick,
and requested to see Mr. Wardour.

It was plainly an unwilling interview he granted her, but
she was not thereby deterred from opening her mind to him.

"I fear, Mr. Wardour," she said, *^ — I come altogether
without authority — but I fear Letty has been rather hurried in
her engagement with Mr. Ilelmer. I think she dreads being
married — at least so soon."

'' You would have her break it off ? " said Godfrey, with
cold restraint.



MAIiY AXD GODFREY, 155

"No ; certainly not,*' replied Mary ; "that would be un-
just to Mr. Helmcr. But the thing was so hastened, indeed,
hurried, by that unhappy accident, that she had scarcely time
to know her own mind."

^' Miss Marston," answered Godfrey, severely, ''it is her
own fault — all and entirely her own fault."

'• But, surely," said Mary, '' it will not do for us to insist
upon desert. That is not how we are treated ourselves."

*' Is it not ? " returned Godfrey, angrily. '* My experience
is different. I am sure my faults have come back upon me
pretty sharply. — She must marry tlie fellow, or her character
is gone."

** 1 am unwilling to grant that, Mr. Wardour. It was
wrong in lier to have anything to say to Mr. llelmer without
your knowledge, and a foolish thing to meet him as she did ;
but Letty is a good girl, and you know country ways are old-
fashioned, and in itself there is nothing wicked in having a
talk with a young man after dark."

'* You s})cak, 1 dare say, a.s such things arc regarded in —
certain strata of society," returned Godfrey, coldly; "but
such views do not hold in that to which cilhtr of tlinn ho-
longs."

*' It seems to me a ])iiy ihey sliould not, tiien," said Mary.
** I know nothing of such matters, but, surely, young people
should have opportunities of understanding each other. Any-
how, marriage is a heavy penalty to pay for such an indiscre-
tion. A girl might like a young man well enough to enjoy a
talk witli him now and then, and yet find it hard to marry
him."

^* Did you come here to dispute social customs with me.
Miss Marston ? " said Godfrey. '' 1 am not prepared, nor, in-
deed, sufficiently interested, to discuss them with you."

" I will come to the point at once," answered Mary ; who,
although speaking so collectedly, was much frightened at her
own boldness : Godfrey seemed from his knowledge so far
above her, and she owed him so much. *' — Would it not be
possible for Letty to return here ? Then the thing might take
its natural course, and Tom and she know each other better



156 MAEY MARSTOK

before they did what was irrevocable. They are little better
than children now."

" The thing is absolutely impossible," said Godfrey, and
haughtily rose from his chair like one in authority ending an
interyiew. '^But," he added, ^^you have been put to great
expense for the foolish girl, and, when she leaves you, I desire
you will let me know — "

^^ Thank you, Mr. Wardour !" said Mary, who had risen
also. **As you have now given a turn to the conversation
which is not in the least interesting to me, I wish you a good
evening."

With the words, she left the room. He had made her angry
at last. She trembled so that, the instant she was out of sight
of the house, she had to, sit down for dread of falling.

Godfrey remained in the room where she left him, full of
indignation. Ever since that frightful waking, he had brooded
over the injury — the insult, he counted it — which Letty had
heaped upon him. A great tenderness toward her, to himself
unknown, and of his own will unbegotten, remained in his
spirit. When he passed the door of her room, returning from
that terrible ride, he locked it, and put the key in his pocket,
and from that day no one entered the chamber. But, had he
loved Letty as purely as he had loved her selfishly, he would
have listened to Mary pleading in her behalf, and would have
thought first about her well-being, not about her character in
the eyes of the world. lie would have seen also that, while
the breath of the world's opinion is a mockery in counterpoise
with a life of broken interest and the society of an unworthy
husband, the mere fact of his mother's receiving her again at
Thornwick would of itself be enough to reestablish her posi-
tion in the face of all gainsayers. But in Godfrey Wardour
love and pride went hand in hand. Not for a moment would
he will to love a girl capable of being interested, if nothing
more, in Tom Helmer. It must be allowed, however, that it
would have been a terrible torture to see Letty about the jolace,
to pass her on the stair, to come upon her in the garden, to sit
with her in the room, and know all the time that it was the
test of Tom's worth and her constancy. Even were she to give



MAEY AXD GODFREY. 157

up Tom, satisfied that she did not love him, she conld be
nothing more to him, even in the relation in which he had
allowed her to think she stood to him. She had behaved too
deceitfully, too heartlessly, too ungratefully, too vulnarJij for
that ! Yet was his heart torn every time the vision of the
gentle girl rose before **that inward eye," which, for long,
could no more be to him *^ the bliss of solitude '' ; when he saw
those hazel depths looking half anxious, half sorrowful in his
face, as, with sadly comic sense of lier stupidity, she listened
while he explained or read something he loved. But no ; no-
tliing else would do than act the mere lionest guardian, com-
pelling them to marry, no matter how slight or transient the
shadow the man had cast over her reputation I

Mary returned with a sense of utter faihire.

lUit before long she came to the conclusion that all was
right between Tom and Ix'tty, and that the cause of her anxiety
had lain merely in I^etty's loss of animal spirits.

Now and then Mary tried to turn Tom's attention a little
toward the duty of religion : Tom received the attempt with
gentle amusement and a little badinage. It was all very well
iov girls I Indeed, he had made the observation that girls who
had no religion were "strong-minded," and that he could not
endure ! Like most men, he was so well satisfied with himself,
that he saw no occasion to take trouble to be anything better
than he was. Never suspecting what a noble creature he was
meant to be, he never saw what a poor creature he was. In
his own eyes he was a man any girl might be proud to marry,
lie had not yet, however, sunk to the depth of those who, hav-
ing caught a glimpse of nobility, confess wretchedness, excuse
it, and decline to allow that the noble they see they are bound
to be ; or, worse still, perhaps, admit the obligation, but move
no inch to fulfill it. It seems to me that such must one day
make acquaintance with essential misery — a thing of which they
have no conception.

Day after day Tom passed through Turnbull and Marston's
shop to see Letty. Tom cared for nobody, else he would have
gone in by the kitchen-door, which was the only other entrance
to the house ; but I do not kno^v whether it is a pity or not



.158 MARY MAESTON.

that he did not hear the remarks which rose like- the dust of his
passage behind him. In the same little sitting-room, where
for so many years Mary had listened to the slow, tender wis-
dom of her father, a cleyer young man was now making love
to an ignorant girl, whom he did not half understand or half
appreciate, all the time he feeling himself the greater and wiser
and more valuable of the two. He was unaware, however, that
he did feel so, for he had never yet become conscious of any
fact concerning himself.

The whole Turnbull family, from the beginnings of things
self -constituted judges of the two Marstons, were not the less
critical of the daughter, that the father had been taken from
her. There was grumbling in the shop every time she ran up
to see Letty, every one regarding her and speaking of her as a
servant neglecting her duty. Yet all knew well enough that
she was co-proprietor of business and stock, and the elder Turn-
bull knew besides that, if the lawyer to whose care William
Marston had committed his daughter were at that moment to
go into the affairs of the partnership, he would find that Mary
had a much larger amount of money actually in the business
than he.

Of all matters connected with the business, except those
of her own department, Mary was ignorant. Her father had
never neglected his duty, but he had so far neglected what the
world calls a man's interests as to leave his affairs much too
exclusively in the hands of his partner ; he had been too much
interested in life itself to look sharply after anything less than
life. He acknowledged no loorldhj interests at all : either God
cared for his interests or he himself did not. Whether he
might not have been more attentive to the state of his affairs
without danger of deej^er loss, I do not care to examine or
determine ; the result of his life in the world was a grand suc-
cess. Now, Mary's feeling and judgment in regard to things
being identical with her father's, Turnbull, instructed by his
greed, both natural and acquired, argued thus — unconsciously
almost, but not the less argued — that what Mary valued so lit-
tle, and he valued so much, must, by necessary deduction, be
more his than hers — and logically ought to be legally. So ser-



MART IX THE SHOP. 159

Vants begin to steal, arguing that such and such things are
only lying about, and nobody cares for them.

But Turnbull, knowing that, notwithstanding the reason
on his side, it was not safe to act on such a conclusion, had
for some time felt no little anxiety to secure himself from in-
vestigation and possible disaster by the marriage of Mary to
iiis son George.

Tom Ilelmer had now t(j learn that, by his father's will, made
doubtless under the inlluence of his mother, he Wiis to have but
a small annuity so long as she lived. Upon this he determined
nevertheless to marry, confident in his literary faculty, which,
he never doubted, would soon raise it to a very sutlicient in-
come. Nor did Mary attempt to dissuade him ; for what could
be better for a disj)osition like liis than care for the things of
this life, occasioned by the needs of others dependent upon
liim I Besides, there seemed to be Jiothing else now possible for
Letty. So, in tlie early summer, tliey were married, no rela-
tive present exce))t Mrs. Wanlour, Mrs. Ilehner and Godfrey
having both declined their invitation ; and no friend, except
^fary for bridesmaid, and Mr. Pycroft, a scliool and college
friend of Tom's, who was now making a bohemian livelihood
in Tiondon by writing for the weekly press, as he called certain
journals of no high standing, for groom's man. After the
ceremony, and a breakfast ])rovided by Mary, the young couple
took the train for London.



CHAPTER XIX.

M A K Y IX THE s n O P .

More than a year had now passed from the opening of my
narrative. It was full summer again at Testbridge, and things,
to the careless eye, were unchanged, and, to the careless mind,
would never change, although, in fact, nothing was the same,
and nothing could continue as it now was. For were not the
earth and the sun a little colder ? Had not the moon crum-



160 MAEY MARSTON.

bled a little ? And had not the eternal warmth, unperceived
save of a few, drawn a little nearer — the clock that measures
the eternal day ticked one tick more to the hour when the Son
of Man will come ? But the greed and the fawning did go on
unchanged, save it were for the worse, in the shop of Turnbull
and Marston, seasoned only vfith the heavenly salt of Mary's
good ministration.

She was very lonely. Letty was gone ; and the link be-
tween Mr. Wardour and her not only broken, but a gulf of
separation in its place. Not the less remained the good he had
given her. No good is ever lost. The heavenly porter was
departed, but had left the door wide. She had seen him but
once since Letty 's marriage, and then his salutation was like
that of a dead man in a dream ; for in his sore heart he still
imagined her the confidante of Letty's deception.

But the shadow of her father's absence swallowed all the
other shadows. The air of warmth and peace and conscious
safety which had hitherto surrounded her was gone, and in its
place cold, exposure, and annoyance. Between them her fa-
ther and she had originated a mutually protective atmosphere
of love ; when that failed, the atmosphere of earthly relation
rushed in and enveloped her. The moment of her father's de-
parture, malign influences, inimical to tlie very springs of her
life, concentrated themselves upon her : it was the design of
John Turnbull that she should not be comfortable so long as
she did not irrevocably cast in her lot with his family ; and,
the rest in the shop being mostly creatures of his own choice,
by a sort of implicit understanding they proceeded to make
her uncomfortable. So long as they confined themselves to
silence, neglect, and general exclusion, Mary heeded little their
behavior, for no intercourse with them, beyond^ that of exter-
nal good offices, could be better than indifferent to her ; but,
when they advanced to positive interference, her position be-
came indeed hard to endure. They would, for instance, keep
watch on her serving, and, as soon as the customer was gone,
would find open fault with this or that she had said or done.
But even this was comparatively endurable : when they ad-
vanced to the insolence of doing the same in the presence of



MART IX THE SHOP. 161

the customer, she found it more than she could bear with even
a show of equanimity. She did her best, however ; and for
some time things went on without any symptom of approach-
ing crisis. But it was impossible this should continue ; for,
had she been capable of endless endurance, her persecutors
would only have gone on to worse. But Mary was naturally
quick-tempered, and the chief trouble they caused her was the
control of her temper ; for, although she had early come to
recognize the imperative duty of this branch of self-govern-
ment, she was not yet perfect in it. Not every one who can serve
unboundedly can endure })atiently ; and the more gentle some
natures, the more they resent tlie rudeness which springs from
an opposite nature ; absolutely courteous, they llame at dis-
courtesy, and thus lack of the perfection to which patience
would and must raise them. Wlien Turnbull, in the narrow
space beliind the counter, would push his way pivst her witlunit
other pretense of apology than something like a sneer, she did
feel for a moment as if evil were about to have the victory over
her; and when Mrs. Turnbull came in, which happily was but
seldom, she felt as if from .some sepulchre in her mind a very
demon sprang to meet her. For she behaved to her worst of
all. She would heave herself in with the air and look of a vul-
gar duchess ; for, from the height of her small consciousness,
she looked down upon the shop, and never entered it save as a
customer. The daughter of a small country attorney, who,
notwithstanding his unneglected opportunities, had not been
too successful to accept as a husband for his daughter such a
tradesman as John Turnbull, she arrogated position from her
idea of her father's position ; and, while bitterly cherishing
tlie feeling that she had married beneath her, obstinately ex-
cluded the fact that therein she had descended to her hus-
band's level, regarding herself much in the light of a ])rin-
cess whose disguise takes nothing from her rank. She was
like those ladies who, having set their seal to the death of
their first husbands by marrying again, yet cling to the title
they gave them, and continue to call themselves by their name.
Mrs. Turnbull never bought a dress at the shop. No one
should say of her, it was easy for a snail to live in a castle !



162 MARY MARSTOK

She took pains to let her precious public know that she went
to London to make her purchases. If she did not mention
also that she made them at the warehouses where her husband
was a customer, procuring them at the same price he would
have paid, it was because she saw no occasion. It was indeed
only for some small occasional necessity she ever crossed the
threshold of the place whence came all the money she had to
spend. When she did, she entered it with such airs as she
imagined to represent the consciousness of the scion of a coun-
ty family : there is one show of breeding vulgarity seldom
assumes — simplicity. No sign of recognition would pass
between her husband and herself : by one stern refusal to
acknowledge his advances, she had from the first taught him
that in the shop they were strangers : he saw the rock of
ridicule ahead, and required no second lesson : when she was
present, he never knew it. George had learned the lesson
before he went into the business, and Mary had never required
it. The others behaved to her as to any customer known to
stand upon her dignity, but she made them no return in
politeness ; and the way she would order Mary, now there was
no father to offend, would have been amusing enough but for
the irritation its extreme rudeness caused her. She did, how-
ever, manage sometimes to be at once both a little angry and
much amused. Small idea had Mrs. Turnbull of the diver-
sion which on such occasions she afforded the customers pres-
ent.

One day, a short time before her marriage, delayed by the
illness of Mr. Eedmain, Miss Mortimer happened to be in the
shop, and was being served by Mary, when Mrs. Turnbull
entered. Careless of the customer, she walked straight up to
her as if she saw none, and in a tone that would be dignified,
and was haughty, desired her to bring her a reel of marking-
cotton. Now it had been a principle with Mary's father, and
she had thoroughly learned it, that whatever would be counted
a rudeness by any customer, must be shown to none. *^ If all
are equal in the sight of God," he would say, "^^low dare I
leave a poor woman to serve a rich ? Would I leave one count-
ess to serve another ? My business is to sell in the name of



MAHY ly THE SHOP. 163

Christ. To respect j^ersons in the shop would be just tho
same as to do it in the chapel, and would be to deny him."

*' Excuse me, ma'am," said Mary, " I am waiting on Miss
Mortimer," and went on with what she was about. Mrs.
Turnbull flounced away, a little abashed, not by Marv, but by
linding who the customer was, and carried her commands
across the shop. ^Vfter a moment or two, however, imagining,
in the blindness of her surging anger, that Miss Mortimer was
gone, whereas she had only moved a little farther on to look at
something, she walked up to Mary in a fury.

**Mis8 Marston," she said, her voice half choked witli rage,
''I am at a loss to uiulen-^tand what you moan liy your imper-
tinence."

''I am sorry you should think mo imjx^rtinent." answered
Mary. "You saw yourself I was engaged with a custonu^r,
and could not attend to you."

** Your tone was insulTerablc, miss ! " cried the grand lady ;
but what more she would have said I can not toll, for just then
Miss Mortimer resumed hor place in front of Marv. She had
no idea of her jmsition in the shoj), neither suspected who her
assailant was, and, fearing the woman's accusation might do her
an injury, felt compelled to interfere.

" Miss Marston," she said — she had just heard Mrs. Turnbull
use her name — " if you should be called to account by your om-
jiloyer, will you, jilease, refer to me ? You were perfectly civil
both to me and to this — " she hesitated a ])orcoi)tibk' moment,
but ended with the word " ladj/,'^ })eculiarly toned.

*' Thank you, ma'am," said ^lary, with a smile, ''but it is
of no consequence."

This answer would have almost driven the woman out of
her reason — already, between annoyance with herself and anger
with Mary, her hue was purple : something she called her con-
stitution required a nightly glass of brandy-and-water — but she
was so dumfounded by Miss Mortimer's defense of Mary, which
she looked upon as an assault on herself, so painfully awaro
that all hands were arrested and all eyes fixed on herself, and
so mortified with the conviction that her husband was enjoying
her discomfiture, that, Avith what haughtiness she could extern-



164 MARY MARSTOK

porize from consuming ofiense, she made a sudden yortical
gyration, and walked from the vile place.

Now, George neyer lost a chance of recommending himself
to Mary by siding with her — ^but only after the battle. He
came up to her now with a mean, unpleasant look, intended to
represent sympathy, and, approaching his face to hers, said,
confidentially :

"What made my mother speak to you like that, Mary ?"

'^ You must ask herself," she answered.

"There you are, as usual, Mary ! " he protested ; "you will
never let a fellow take your part ! "

"If you wanted to take my part, you should have done so
when there vv^ould have been some good in it."

" How could I, before Miss Mortimer, you know ! "

" Then why do it now ? "

" Well, you see — it's hard to bear hearing you ill used !
What did you say to Miss Mortimer that angered my mother ? "

His father heard him, and, taking the cue, called out in the
rudest fashion :

"If you think, Mary, you're going to take liberties with
customers because you've got no one over you, the sooner you
find you're mistaken the better."

Mary made him no answer.

On her way to "the villa," Mrs. Turnbull, spurred by spite,
had got hold of the same idea as George, only that she invented
where he had but imagined it ; and when her husband came
home in the evening fell out upon him for allowing Mary to be
impertinent to his customers, in whom for the first time she
condescended to show an interest :

"There she was, talking away to that Miss Mortimer as if
she was Beenie in the kitchen ! County people won't stand
being treated as if one was just as good as another, I can tell
you ! She'll be the ruin of the business, with her fine-lady-
airs ! Who's she, I should like to know ? "

"I shall speak to her," said the husband. "' But," he went



Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldMary Marston. A novel → online text (page 14 of 40)