Copyright
George MacDonald.

Mary Marston. A novel online

. (page 15 of 40)
Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldMary Marston. A novel → online text (page 15 of 40)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


on, "I fear you will no longer a2:)prove of marrying her to
George, if you think she's an injury to the business !"

" You know, as well as I do, that is the readiest way to get



MAEY IX THE SHOP. 165

her out of it. Make lier marry George, and slie will fall into
my hands. If I don't make her repent her impudence then,
you may call me the fool you think me."

Mary knew well enough what they wanted of her ; but of
the real cause at the root of their desire she had no suspicion.
Recoiling altogether from Mr. TurnbuU's theories of business,
whicli were in flat repudiation of the laws of Him who alono
understands either man or his business, she yet had not a doubt
of his honesty as the trades and professions count honesty.
Her father had left the money affairs of the tirm to Mr. Turn-
Inill, and she did the same. It was for no other reason than
tliat her position had become almost intolerable, tliat she now
began to wonder if she was bound to this mode of life, and
whether it might not be possible to forsake it.

Greed is the soul's thieving ; where there is greed, there can
not be honesty. John 'rurnbull, it is true, wa.s not only proud
of his reputation for honesty, but })rided himself on being an
honest man ; yet not the less was he dishonest — and that with
a dishonesty such as few of those called tliieves have attained to.

Like most of his kind, he had been neither so vulgar nor
so dishonest from the lirst. In the prime of youth he had had
what the peoj)le about him called high notions, and counted
(luixotic fancies. But it was not their mockery of his tall talk
that turned him aside ; opposition invariably contirmed Turn-
bull. He had never set his face in the right direction. Tiio
seducing influence lay in himself. It was not the truth he had
loved ; it was the show of flue sentiment he had enjoyed. The
distinction of holding loftier opinions than his neighbors was
the ground of his advocacy of them. Something of the beauty
of the truth he must have seen — who does not ? — else he could
not have been thus moved at all ; but he had never denied him-
self even a whim for the carrying out of one of his ideas ; he
had never set himself to be better ; and the whole mountain-
chain, therefore, of his notions sank and sank, until at length
their loftiest peak was the maxim, Honesty is the best policy —
a maxim which, true enough in fact, will no more make a man
honest than the economic aphorism, 77^!^ f^upjAij crjicals the de-
mand, will teach him the niceties of social duty. AVhoever



166 MABY MARSTON.

makes policy the ground of his honesty will discover more and
more exceptions to the rule. The career, therefore, of Turn-
bull of the high notions had been a gradual descent to the
level of his present dishonesty and vulgarity ; nothing is so
vulgarizing as dishonesty. I do not care to follow the history
of any man downward. Let him who desires to look on such
a panorama, faithfully and thoroughly depicted, read Auer-
bach's "Diethelm von Buchenberg."

Things went a little more quietly in the shop after this
for a while : TurnbuU probably was afraid of precipitating
matters, and driving Mary to seek counsel — from which much
injury might arise to his condition and prospects. As if to
make amends for past rudeness, he even took some pains to be
polite, putting on something of the manners with which he
favored his ^^best customers," of all mankind in his eyes the
most to be honored. This, of course, rendered him odious in
the eyes of Mary, and ripened the desire to free herself from
circumstances which from garments seemed to have grown
cerements. She was, however, too much her father's daughter
to do anything in haste.

She might have been less willing to abandon them, had she
had any friends like-minded with herself, but, while they were
all kindly disposed to her, none of the religious associates of
her father, who knew, or might have known her well, approved
of her. They spoke of her generally with a shake of the head,
and an unquestioned feeling that God was not pleased with her.
There are few of the so-called religious who seem able to trust
either God or their neighbor in matters that concern those two
and no other. Nor had she had opportunity of making ac-
quaintance with any who believed and lived like her father, in
other of the Christian communities of the town. But she had
her Bible, and, when that troubled her, as it did not a little
sometimes, she had the Eternal Wisdom to cry to for such wis-
dom as she could receive ; and one of the things she learned
was, that nowhere in the Bible was she called on to believe in
the Bible, but in the living God, in whom is no darkness, and
who alone can give light to understand his own intent. All
her troubles she carried to him.



MARY ly THE SHOP. 167

It was not always the solitude of her room that Mary sought
to get out of the wind of the world. Her love of nature had
been growing stronger, notably, from her father's deatli. If
tlie world is God's, every true man ought to feel at home in it.
Something is wrong if the calm of the summer night does not
sink into the heart, for the peace of God is there embodied.
Something is wrong in the man to whom the sunrise is not a
divine glory, for tlierein are embodied tlie trutli, tlie simplicity,
the might of the Maker. Wlien all is true in us, we shall feel
the visible presence of the Watchful and Loving ; for the thing
that he works is its sign and symbol, its clothing fact.. In the
gentle conference of earth and sky, in tlie witnessing colors of
the west, in the wind tliat so gently visited her cheek, in the
great burst of a new morning, Mary saw the sordid affairs of
Mammon, to whose worship the sliop seemed to become more
and more of a tempk*, sink to the bottom of things, as the
mud, which, during the day, the feet of the drinking cattle
liavo stirretl, sinks inthesik-nt niglit to tlie bottom of the clear
pool ; and she saw that the sordid is all in the soul, and not in
the shop. The service of Christ is help. The service of Mam-
mon is greed.

Letty was no good correspondent : after one letttr in which
she declared herself perfectly liai)py, and another in which she
said almost nothing, her communication ceased. Mrs. War-
dour had been in the shop again and again, but on each occasion
had sought the service of another ; and once, indeed, when
Afary alone was disengaged, had waited until another was at
liberty. While Letty wiis in her hcmse, she had been civil, but,
as soon as she was gone, seemed to show that she held her con-
cerned in the scandal that had befallen Thornwick. Once, as
I have said, she met Godfrey. It was in the fields. He was
walking hurriedly, as usual, but with his head bent, and a
gloomy gaze fixed upon nothing visible. He started when he
saw her, took his hat off, and, with his eyes seeming to look
far away beyond her, passed without a word. Yet had she
been to him a true pupil ; for, although neither of them knew
it, Mary had learned more from Godfrey than Crodfrey was
capable of teaching. She had turned thought and feeling into



168 MAHY MARSTON.

life, into reality, into creation. They speak of the creations
of the human intellect, of the human imagination ! there is
nothing man can do comes half so near the making of the
Maker as the ordering of his way — except one thing : the
highest creation of which man is capable, is to will the will
of the Father. That has in it an element of the purely
creative, and then is man likest God. But simply to do what
we ought, is an altogether higher, diviner, more potent, more
creative thing, than to write the grandest poem, paint the
most beautiful picture, carve the mightiest statue, build the
most worshiping temple, dream out the most enchanting com-
motion of melody and harmony. If Godfrey could have seen
the soul of the maiden into whose face his discourtesy called
the hot blood, he would have beheld there simply what God
made the earth for ; as it was, he saw a shop-girl, to whom in
happier circumstances he had shown kindness, in whom he was
now no longer interested. But the sight of his troubled face
called up all the mother in her ; a rush of tenderness, born of
gratitude, flooded her heart. He was sad, and she could do
nothing to comfort him ! He had been royally good to her,
and no return was in her power. She could not even let him
know how she had profited by his gifts ! She could come near
him with no ministration! The. bond between them was an
eternal one, yet were they separated by a gulf of unrelation.
Not a mountain-range, but a stayless nothingness j^arted them.
She built many a castle, with walls of gratitude and floors of
service to entertain Godfrey Wardour ; but they stood on no
foundation of imagined possibility.



CHAPTER XX.

THE WEDDII^G-DRESS.



For all her troubles, however, Mary had her pleasures,
even in the shop. It was a delight to receive the friendly
greetings of such as had known and honored her father. She



THE WEDDING-DRESS. 169

had the pleasure, as real as it was simple, of pure seryice, reap-
ing the fruit of the earth in the joy of the work that was given
her to do ; there is no true work that does not carry its re-
ward, thougli there are few that do not drop it and lose it.
She gathered also the pleasure of seeing and talking with peo-
ple whose manners and speech were of finer grain and tone
than those about licr. Wlien Ilcspcr Mortimer entered the
shop, she brouglit witli licr delight ; her carriage was like the
gait of an ode ; licr motions were rhythm ; and her speech was
music. Iler smile was light, and her whole presence an en-
chantment to Mary. The reading aloud which AVardour had
led her to practice had tauglit her much, not only in respect
of the delicacies of speech and utterance, but in the deeper
matters of motion, relation, and harmony. Ilesper's clear-cut
but not too sharply delined consonants ; her soft but full-
bodied vowels ; above all, her slow cadences that liovered on
the verge of song, as her walk on the verge of a slow aerial
dance ; the carriage of her head, the movements of her lips,
her arms, her hands ; the self-possession that seemed the very
embodiment of law — these formed together a whole of inex-
pressible delight, inextricably for Mary a.ssociated with music
and verse : she would hasten to serve her as if she had been an
angel come to do a little earthly shopping, and rt'tuni witli
the next heavenward tide. Ilesper, in response all but uncon-
scious, would be waited on by no other than Mary ; and always
between them passed some sweet, gentle nothings, which af-
forded Hes]ier more j)leasure than she could have accounted
for.

Her wedding-day was now for the third time fixed, when
one morning she entered the shop to make some purchases.
Not happy in the prospect before her, she was yet inclined to
make the best of it so far as clothes were concerned — the more
so, })erhaps, that she had seldom yet been dressed to her satis-
faction : she was now brooding over a certain idea for her wed-
ding-dress, which she had altogether faded in the attempt to
convey to her IjOh^ow coiduriere ; and it had come into her
head to try whether ^lary might not grasp her idea, and help
her to make it intelligible.



170 MARY MARSTOK

Mary listened and thought, questioned, and desired ex-
planations — at length, begged she would allow her to ponder
the thing a little : she could hardly at once venture to say any-
thing. Hesper laughed, and said she was taking a small mat-
ter too seriously — concluding from Mary's hesitation that she
had but perplexed her, and that she could be of no use to her
in the difficulty.

"A small matter? Your wedding-dress!" exclaimed
Mary, in a tone of expostulation.

Hesper did not laugh again, but gaye a little sigh instead,
which struck sadly on Mary's sympathetic heart. She cast a
quick look in her face. Hesper caught the look, and under-
stood it. Eor one passing moment she felt as if, amid the
poor pleasure of adorning herself for a hated marriage, she had
found a precious thing of which she had once or twice dreamed,
never thought as a possible existence — a friend, namely, to
love her : the next, slie saw the absurdity of imagining a
friend in a shop-girl.

^^But I must make up my mind so soon !" she answered.
*^ Madame Crepine gave me her idea, in answer to mine, but
nothing like it, two days ago ; and, as I have not written
again, I fear she may be taking her own way with the thing.
I am certain to hate it."

^^ I will talk to you about it as early as you please to-mor-
row, if that will do," returned Mary.

She knew nothing about dressmaking beyond what came of
a true taste, and the experience gained in cutting out and mak-
ing her own garments, which she had never yet found a dress-
maker to do to her mind ; and, indeed, Hesper had been led to
ask her advice mainly from observing how neat the design of
her dresses was, and how faithfully they fitted her. Dress is a
sort of freemasonry between girls.

"But I can not have the horses to-morrow," said Hesper.

"I might," pondered Mary aloud, after a moment's silence,
'^walk out to Durnmelling this evening after the shop is shut.
By that time I shall have been able to think ; I find it impos-
sible, with you before me. "

Hesper acknowledged the compliment with a very pleasant



THE WBDBIXG-BBESS. 171

smile. If it be true, as I may not doubt, that women, in dress-
ing, have the fear of women and not of men before their eyes,
then a compliment from some women must be more acceptable
to some than a compliment from any man but the specially
favored.

'' Thank you a thousand times," she drawled, sweetly.
**Then I shall expect you. Ask for my maid. Slie will take
you to my room. Good-by for the present."

As soon as she was gone, Mary, her mind's eye full of her
ligure, her look, her style, her motion, gave herself to the im-
})ortant question of the dress conceived by Hcsper ; and during
iier dinner-hour contrived to cut out and fit to her own person
tiie })attern of a garment such as she su])j)()sed intended in the
not very lucid description she had given lur. When she was
free, she set out with it for Durnmelling.

It was rather a long walk, the earlier })art of it full of sad
reminders of the pleasure with which, greater than ever ac-
e()m])anii'd her to churcli, she went to j)ay her Sunday visit at
Thornwick ; but the latter part, althougii tlie places were so
near, almost new to her : slie liad never been within the gate
of Durnmelling, and felt curious to see the liousc of which she
had so often lieard.

The butler opened the door to her — an elderly man, of con-
scious dignity rather than ])ride, who reeeived the "young per-
son" graciously, and, leaving her in tlie entrance-hall, went to
find ''^liss Mortimer's maid," he said, though there was but
one lady's-maid in the establishment.

Tlie few moments she liad to wait far more than repaid her
for the trouble she had taken : through a side-door she looked
into the great roofiess hall, the one grand thing about the house.
Its majesty laid hold upon her, and the sho})keei)er's daughter
felt the ])ower of the ancient dignity and ineffaceable beauty
far more than any of the family to which it had for centuries
belonged.

She was standing lost in delight, when a rude voice called
to lier from half-way up a stair :

** You're to come this way, miss."

AVith a start, she turned and went.



172 MAEY MARSTOK

It was a large room to v/hicli she was led. There was no
one in it, and she walked to an open window, which had a wide
outlook across the fields. A little to the right, over some trees,
were the chimneys of Thornwick. She almost started to see
them — so near, and yet so far — like the memory of a sweet, sad
story.

*' Do you like my prospect ? " asked the voice of Hesper
behind her. ^^t is flat."

^^I like it much, Miss Mortimer," answered Mary, turning
quickly with a bright face. " Flatness has its own beauty. I
sometimes feel as if room was all I wanted ; and of that there
is so much there ! You see over the tree-tops, too, and that is
good — sometimes — don't you think ? "

Miss Mortimer gave no other rej^ly than a gentle stare, which
expressed no curiosity, although she had a vague feeling that
Mary's words meant something. Most girls of her class would
hardly have got so far.

The summer was backward, but the day had been fine and
warm, and the evening was dewy and soft, and full of evasive
odor. The window looked westward, and the setting sun threw
long shadows toward the house. A gentle wind was moving in
the tree-tops. The spirit of the evening had laid hold of Mary.
The peace of faithfulness filled the air. The day's business
vanished, molten in the rest of the coming night. Even Hesper's
wedding-dress was gone from her thoughts. She was in her own
world, and ready, for very quietness of spirit, to go to sleep.
But she had not forgotten the delight of Hesper's presence ; it
was only that all relation between them was gone except such
as was purely human.

^^This reminds me so of some beautiful verses of Henry
Vaughan ! " she said, half dreamily.

*^ What do they say ?" drawled Hesper.

Mary repeated as follows :

" ' The frosts are past, the storms are gone,
And backward life at last comes on.
And here in dust and dirt, O here,
The Lilies of His love appear ! ' "



THE WEDDING-DRESS. 173

" TVhose did you say the lines were ? " asked Ilesper, with
merest automatic response.

"Henry Vaughan's," answered Mary, with a little spiritual
shiver, as of one who had dropped a pearl in the miry way.

"I never lieard of him," rejoined Ilesper, witli entire in-
difference.

For anything slie knew, he miglit be an occasional writer
in ''The Belgravc Magazine," or "The Fireside Herald." Ig-
norance is one of the many things of wliicli a lady of position
is never ashamed ; wherein she is, it may be, more right than
most of my readers will be inclined to allow ; for ignorance is
not the thing to be ashamed of, but neglect of knowledge.
That a young person in Mary's position shonld know a certain
thing, was, on the other liand, a reason why a lady in Hospcr's
position sliould not know it I Was it possible ii shop-girl
should know anything that Hcsper ought to know and did
not ? It was foolisli of Mary, i)erhap3, but she had vaguely
felt tliat a beautiful lady hke Miss Mortimer, and with sucli a
name as llesi)cr, must know all tin- IomIv thiii'/.s she knew, and
many more besides.

'* He lived in the time ol tlie CharicsL'S," she said, witli a
tremble in her voice, for she was ashaniril to sliow her knowl-
edge against the other's ignorance.

** Ah !" drawled Ilesper, with a coniii^i(i fcrling that peo-
ple who kei)t shops read stupid old books that lay about, be-
cause they could not subscribe to a circulating library. — ** Are
you fond of poetry ?" slie added ; for the slight, shadowy shy-
ness, into which her venture had thrown Mary, drew her heart
a little, though she hardly knew it, and inclined her to say
something.

" Yes," answered Mary, who felt like a child questioned by
a stranger in the road ; '' — when it is good," she added, hesi-
tatingly.

*' What do you mean by good ?" asked Ilesper — out of her
knowledge, Mary thought, but it was not even out of her ig-
norance, only out of her indifference. People must say some-
thing, lest life should stop.

**That is a question difficult to answer," replied Mary.



174: MAEY MARS TON.

^' I have often asked it of myself, but never got any plain an-
swer."

^^I do not see v/liy you should find any difficulty in it,"
returned Hesper, with a shadow of interest. *^You know
what you mean when you say to yourself you like this, or you
do not like that."

*^ How clever she is, too ! " thought Mary ; but she an-
swered : ''1 don't think I ever say anything to myself about the
poetry I read — not at the time, I mean. If I like it, it drowns
me ; and, if I don't like it, it is as the Dead Sea to me, in
which you know you can't sink, if you try ever so."

Hesper saw nothing in the words, and began to fear that
Mary was so stupid as to imagine herself clever ; whereupon
the fancy she had taken to her began to sink like water in sand.
The two were still on their feet, near the window — Mary, in her
bonnet, with her back to it, and Ilcsioer, in evening attire,
with her face to the sunset, so that i\\Q one was like a darkling
worshiper, the other like the radiant goddess. But the truth
was, that Hesper was a mere earthly woman, and Mary a heav-
enly messenger to her. Neither of them knew it, but so it
was ; for the angels are essentially humble, and Hesper would
have condescended to any angel out of her own class.

^^I think I know good poetry by what it does to me," re-
sumed Mary, thoughtfully, just as Hesper was about to pass
to the business of the hour.

"Indeed!" rejoined Hesper, not less puzzled than before,
if the word should be used Avhcre there was no effort to under-
stand. Poetry had never done anything to her, and Mary's
words conveyed no shadow of an idea.

The tone of her inched checked Mary. She hesitated a
moment, but went on.

'^Sometimes," she said, "it makes me feel as if my heart
were too big for my body ; sometimes as if all the grand things
in heaven and earth were trying to get into me at once ; some-
times as if I had discovered something nobody else knew ;
sometimes as if — no, not as if, for then I must go and pray to
God. But I am trying to tell you what I don't know how to tell .
I am not talking nonsense, I hope, only ashamed of myself



THE WEDDIXG-DRESS. 175

that I can't talk sense. — I will show you wliat I have been
doing about your dress.*'

Far more to Hesper's surprise and admiration than any of
her half-foiled attempts at the utterance of lier thoughts,
Mary, taking from her pocket the shape she had prepared, put
it on herself, and, slowly revolving before Ilcsper, revealed what
in her eyes was a masterpiece.

'* But how clever of you!" she cried. — llcr own tingera
had not been quite innocent of tlie labor of tlie needle, for
money had long been scarce at Dunimelling, and in the i)ai)cr
shape she recognized the liand »jf an artist. — " Wliy," she con-
tinued, *'you are nothing less than an accomplished dress-
maker!"

'* That I dare not think myself,-' rcturmd Mary, '' seeing I



nuver had a lesson.''

**I wish you would nuiki^ my wedding-drcss," said IIesj)er.

'' I could not venture, even if I had tlie time,'' answiTud
Mary. "The moment I began to cut into the stulT, 1 should
])e terrified, and lose my self-jwssession. I never made a dress
for anybody but myself."

** You are a little witch !" sai



Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldMary Marston. A novel → online text (page 15 of 40)