George MacDonald.

Mary Marston. A novel online

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timer. But she caught herself smiling, and felt as if she had
sinned. For that a young woman should speak of love and
marriage as Miss Mortimer did, was too horrible to be under-
stood — and she had smiled ! She would have been less shocked
with Hesper, however, had she known that she forced an in-
difference she could not feel — her last poor rampart of sand
against the sea of horror rising around her. But from her
heart she pitied her, almost as one of the lost.

^^ Don't fix your eyes like that," said Hesper, angrily, ^^or
I shall cry. Look the other way, and listen. — I am marrying
money, I tell you — and for money ; therefore, I ought to get
the good of it. Mr. Mortimer will be father enough to see to
that ! So I shall be able to do what I please. I liave fallen in
love with you ; and why shouldn't I have you for my — "

She paused, hesitating : what Avas it she was about to pro-
pose to the little lady standing before her ? She had been going
to say 7naid : what was it that checked her ? The feeling was
to herself shapeless and nameless ; but, however some of my
readers may smile at tlie notion of a girl who served behind a
counter being a lad}^, and however ready Hesper Mortimer
would have been to join them, it was yet a vague sense of tlie



fact that was now embarrassing her, for slie was not half lady
enough to deal with it. In very truth, Mary Marston was al-
ready immeasurably more of a lady than Hesper Mortimer was
ever likely to be in this world. What was the stateliness and
pride of the one compared to the fact that the other would
have died in the workhouse or the street rather than let a man
she did not love embrace lier — yes, if all licr ancestors in liell
had required tlie .sacrilice I To l)e a martyr to a lie is but false
ladyliood. She only is a lady v.ho witnesses to the truth, come
of it v.hat may.

*' — For my — my companion, or something of the sort,'' con-
cluded Ilesper ; ''and then I should Ix' sure of being always
dressed to my mind.''

*^That would be nice !'' responded Mary, thinking only of
the kindness in the speech.

"Would you really like it?";i-kLd licsi)er, in her turn

" I should like it very much," nplied Mary, not imagining
the proposal had in it a shadow of si-riousni'ss. '* I wish it
were possible."

** Why not, then ? Why shouldn't it be j^ossible ? 1 (h»n't
Fuppose you would mind using your needle a little ?"

*' Not in the least,'' answered Mary, amused. ** Only what
would they do in the shop without me ?"

" They could get somebody else, couldn't they ?"

"Hardly, to take my i)lace. My father was Mr. TurnbuH's

**OhI"saiil ll('si)(.r, udI niueh instructed. "I thought
you had only to give warning."

There the matter dropped, and Marv tlKiu'jht do more
about it.

*^ You will let me keep this pattern ? " said licsper.

"It was made for you,'' answered Mary.

While Ilesper was lazily thinking whether that meant she
w as to pay for it, Mary made her a pretty obeisance, and bade
her good night. Ilesper returned her adieu kindly, but neither
shook hands with her nor rang the bell to have her shown out.
Mary found her own way, however, and presently was breath-


ing the fresh air of the twilight fields on her v/ay home to her
piano and her books.

For some time after she was gone, Hesper was entirely occu-
pied with the excogitation of certain harmonies of the toilet
that must minister effect to the dress she had now so plainly
before her mind's eye ; but by and by the dress began to melt
away, and like a dissolving view disappeared, leaving in its
place tlie form of ^^that singular shop-girl." There was no-
thing striking about her ; she made no such sharp impression
on the mind as compelled one to think of her again ; yet al-
ways, when one had been long enough in her company to feel
the charm of her individuality, the very quiet of any quiet
moment was enough to bring back the sweetness of Mary's
twilight presence. For this girl, who spent her days behind a
counter, was one of the spiritual forces at work for the con-
servation and recovery of the universe.

ISTot only had Hesper Mortimer never had a friend worthy
of the name, but no idea of pure friendship had as yet been
generated in her. Sejoia was the nearest to her intimacy : how
far friendship could have place between two such I need not
inquire ; but in her fits of misery Hesper had no other to go
to. Tliose fits, alas ! grew less and less frequent ; for Hesper
was on the downward incline ; but, when the next came, after
this interview, she found herself haunted, at a little distance,
as it were, by a strange sense of dumb, invisible tending. It
did not once come close to her ; it did not once offer her the
smallest positive consolation ; the thing was only this, that the
essence of Mary's being was so purely ministration, that her
form could not recur to any memory without bringing witli it
a dreamy sense of help. Most powerful of all powers in its
holy insinuation is heing. To be is more powerful than oven
to do. Action 7nay be hypocrisy, but being is the thing itself,
and is the parent of action. Had anything that Mary said
recurred to Hesper, she would have thought of it only as the
poor sentimentality of a low education.

But Hesper did not think of Mary's position as low ; that
would have been to measure it ; and it did not once suggest it-
self as having any relation to any life in which she w\is inter-

MR. liEDMAIX. 170

csted. She saw no difference of level between Mary and tlio
lawyer who came about her marriage settlements : they were
together beyond her social horizon. In like manner, moral dif-
ferences — and that in her own class — were almost equally be-
yond recognition. If by neglect of its wings, an eagle should
sink to a dodo, it would then recognize only the laws of dodo
life. For the dodos of humanity, did not one believe in a con-
suming fire and an outer darkness, what would be left us but
an ever-renewed olas! It is truth and not imi)erturbability
that a man's nature reciuires of him ; it is help, not the leaving
of cards at doors, that will be recognized as the test ; it is love,
and no amount of flattery that will ])rosix?r ; differences wide
as that between a gentleman and a cad will contract to a hair's
breadth in that day ; the customs of the trade and the picking
of pockets will go together, with the greater excuse for the
greater need and the less knowledge ; liars the most gentleman-
like and the most rowdy will go as liars ; the first shall be hicst,
.■ind the last first.

i Icsper's day drew on. She liad many tilings to think about
— things very different from any that ciuicenud Mary Marston.
JSIr! was niarrii'd ; found life in Loudon somewhat absorbing ;
and forgot Mary.


MH. Kri).MA[.\.

A LIFE of comi)aratively innocent gayety could not be at-
tractive to Mr. Kcdmain, but at first he accomjianied his wife
everywhere. Xo one knew better than he that not an atom of
love had mingled with her motives in marrying him ; but for
a time he seemed bent on showing her that she needed not have
been so averse to him. "Whether this was indeed his design or
not, I imagine he enjoyed the admiration she roused : for why
should not a man take pride in the possession of a fine woman
as well as in that of a fine horse ? To be sure, Mrs. Redmain
was not quite in the same way, nor quite so much his, as his


horses were, and might one day be a good deal less his than
she was now ; bnt in the mean time she was, I fancy, a pleas-
ant break in the gathering monotony of his existence. As he
got more accustomed to the sight of her in a crowd, however,
and at the same time to her not very interesting company in
private, when she took not the smallest j)ains to please him, he
gradually lapsed into his former ways, and soon came to spend
his evenings in company that made him forget his wife. He
had loved her in a sort of a way, better left undefined, and had
also, almost from the first, hated her a little ; for, following
her cousin's advice, she had appealed to him to save her, and,
when he evaded her prayer, had addressed him in certain terms
too appropriate to be agreeable, and too forcible to be forgot-
ten. His hatred, hoAvever, if that be not much too strong a
name, was neither virulent nor hot, for it had no inverted love
to feed and embitter it. It was more a thing of his head than
his heart, revealing itself mainly in short, acrid speeches, meant
to be clever, and indubitably disagreeable. Nor did Hesper
prove an unworthy antagonist in their encounters of polite
Billingsgate : what she lacked in experience she made up in
breeding. The common remark, generally false, about no love
being lost, was in their case true enough, for there never had
been any between them to lose. The withered rose-leaves have
their sweetness yet, but what of the rotted peony ? It was
generally when Redmain had been longer than usual without
seeing his wife that he said the worst things to her, as if spite
had grown in absence ; but that he should then be capable of
saying such things as he did say, could be understood only by
those who knew the man and his history.

Ferdinand Goldberg Redmain — parents with mean sur-
roundings often give grand names to their children — was the
son of an intellectually gifted laborer, who, rising first to be
boss of a gang, began to take portions of contracts, and
arrived at last, through one lucky venture after another, at
having his estimate accepted and the contract given him for a
rather large affair. The result was that, through his minute
knowledge of details, his faculty for getting work out of his
laborers, a toughness of heart and will that enabled him to


screw wages to the lowest mark, and tlie judicious employment
of inferior material, the contract paid him much too well for
any good to come out of it. From that time, what he called
his life was a continuous cour.-e of what he called success, and
he died one of the richest dirt-beetles of the age, bequeathing
great wealth to his son, and leaving a reputation for substan-
tial worth behind him ; hardly leaving it, I fancy, for surely
lie found it waiting him where he went. lie had been guilty
of a thousand meannesses, oppressions, rapacities, and some
quiet rogueries, but none of them worse than tho?e of many a
man whose ultimate failure has been the sole cause of his ex-
communication by the society which all the time knew well
enough what he was. Often had he been held up by would-be
teachers as a pattern to asj)iring youth of what might be
achieved by unwavering attention to the main chafice, com-
bined with unassaihible honesty : from his experience they
would once more prove to a gaping world the truth of the
maxim, tlie highest intelligible to a base soul, that " honesty
is the best policy." "With his money he left to his son the
seeds of a varied meanness, which bore weeds enough, bm
curiously, neither avarice nor, within the bounds of a modest
])rudence, any unwillingness to part with money — a fact which
will probably appear the stranger when I havt^ told the follow-
ing anecdote concerning a brother of the father, of whom few
indeed mentioned in my narrative ever heard.

This man Avas a joiner, or working cabinet-maker, or some-
thing of the sort. Having one day been set by his master to
rej>air for an old \iu\y an escritoire which had been in her pos-
session for a long time, he came to her house in the evening
with a live-pound note of a country bank, which he had found
in a secret drawer of the same, handing it to her with the
remark that he had always found honesty the best policy.
8he gave him half a sovereign, and he took his leave well
satislled. He had been first to make inquiry, and had learned
that the hank stopped payment many years ago. I can not
help wondering, curious in the statistics of honesty, how many
of my readers Avill be more amused than disgusted with the


It is a great thing to come of decent people, and Ferdinand
Goldberg Redmain must not be judged like one wlio, of honor-
able parentage, whether noble or peasant, takes himself across
to the shady side of the road. Much had been against Red-
main. I do not know of what sort his mother was, but from
certain embryonic yirtues in him, which could hardly have been
his father's, I should think she must have been better than her
husband. She died, howeyer, while he was a mere child ; and
his father married, some said did not marry again. The boy
was sent to a certain public school, which at that time, what-
ever it may or may not be now, was simply a hot-bed of the
lowest vices, and in devil-matters Redmain was an apt pupil.
There is fresh help for the world every time a youth starts
clean upon manhood's race ; his very being is a hope of clean-
sing : this one started as foul as youtli could well be, and had
not yet begun to repent. His character was well known to his
associates, for he was no hypocrite, and Hesper's father knew it
perfectly, and was therefore worse than lie. Had Redmain had a
daughter, he would never have given her to a man like himself.
But, then, Mortimer Avas so poor, and Redmain was so very ricli !
Alas for the man who degrades his poverty by worshiping wealth !
there is no abyss in hell too deep for him to find its bottom.

Mr. Redmain had no jirofession, and knew notliing of busi-
ness beyond what was necessary for understanding whether his
factor or steward, or Avhatevcr he called liim, was doing well
with his money — to that he gave heed. Also, wiser than many,
he took some little care not to spend at full speed what life he
had. With this view he laid down and observed certain rules
in the ordering of his pleasures, which enabled him to keep
ahead of the vice-constable for some time longer than would
otherwise have been the case. But he is one who can never
finally be outrun, and now, as Mr. Redmain was approaching
the end of middle age, he heard plainly enough the approach
of the wool-footed avenger behind him. Horrible was the in-
evitable to him, as horrible as to any ; but it had not yet looked
frightful enough to arrest his downward rush. In his better
conditions — physical, I mean — whether he had any better moral
conditions,^ I can not tell — he would laugh and say, " Gather the


roses while you may " — licaven and earth I wliat roses I — but, in
his worse, he maledicted everything, and was horribly afraid
of helL When in tolerable health, he laughed at the notion of
such an out-of-the-way place, repudiating its very existence,
and, calling in all the arguments urged by good men against
the idea of an eternity of aimless suffering, used them against
the idea of any punishment after death. Himself a bad man,
he reasoned that God was too good to punish sin ; himself a
proud man, he reasoned that God was too high to take heed of
him. lie forgot the best argument he could have adduced —
namely, that the punishment he had had in this life liad done
him no good ; from which he might liave been glad to argue
that none would, and therefore none would be tried. Hut 1
-appose his mother believed there was a hell, for at such times,
when from weariness he was less of an evil beast than usual,
tlie old-fashioned horror would inevitably raise its deinosaurian
head afresh above the slime of his consciousness ; and then even
his wife, could she have seen liow the soul of the man shud-
dered and recoiled, would have let his brutality pass unheedetl,
though it was then at its worst, his temper at such times being
altogether furious. There was no grace in him when he was
ill, nor at any time, beyond a certain cold grace of numner,
wliicli he ke{)t for ceremony, or where lie wantelease.

llap})ily, Mr. I^nlmain had one intellectual i)assion, which,
poor thing as it was, and in its motive, most of its aspects, and
almost all its tendencies, evil exceedingly, yet did something
to delay that corruption of his being which, at the same time,
it powerfully aided to complete : it was for the understanding
and analysis of human evil — not in the abstract, but alive and
oj)erative. For the a}i})easement of this passion, he must ren-
der intelligible to himself, and that on his own exclusive theory
of human vileness, the aims and workings of every fresh speci-
men of what he called human nature that seemed bad enough,
or was peculiar enough to interest him. In this region of dark-
ness he ranged like a discoverer — prowled rather, like an unclean
beast of prey — ever and always on the outlook for the false and
foul ; acknowledging, it is true, that he was no better himself,
but jirrogating on that ground a correctness of judgment be-


yond the reach of such as, desiring to he better, were unwilling
to believe in the utter badness of anything human. Like a
lover, he would watch for the appearance of the vile motive,
the self-interest, that '^^niust be," he hneiu, at the heart of this
or that deed or proceeding of apparent benevolence or gener-
osity. Often, alas ! the thing was provable ; and, where he did
not find, he was quick to invent ; and, where he failed in find-
ing or inventing, he not the less believed the bad motive was
there, and followed the slightest seeming trail of the cunning
demon only the more eagerly. What a smile was his when he
heard, which truly he was not in the way to hear often, the
praise of some good deed, or an ascription of high end to some
endeavor of one of the vile race to which he belonged ! Do
those who abuse their kind actually believe they are of it ?
Do they hold themselves exceptions ? Do they never reflect
that it must be because such is their own nature, whether their
accusation be true or false, that they know how to attribute such
motives to their fellows ? Or is it that, actually and immedi-
ately rejoicing in iniquity, they delight in believing it universal ?
Quiet as a panther, Redmain was, I say, always in pursuit,
if not of something sensual for himself, then of something
evil in another. He would sit at his club, silent and watcliing,
day after day, night after night, waiting for the chance that
should cast light on some idea of detection, on some doubt,
bewilderment, or conjecture. He would ask the farthest-olf
questions : who could tell" what might send him into the track
of discovery ? He would give to the talk the strangest turns,
laying trap after trap to ensnare the most miserable of facts, el-
evated into a desirable secret only by his hope to learn through
it something equally valueless beyond it. Especially he de-
lighted in discovering, or flattering himself he had discovered,
the hollow full of dead men's bones under the flowery lawn of
seeming goodness. Nor as yet had he, so far as he knew, or at
least was prepared to allow, ever failed. And this he called
the study of human nature, and quoted Pope. Truly, next to
God, the proper study of mankind is man ; but how shall a
man that knows only the evil in himself, nor sees it hateful,
read the thousandfold-compounded heart of his neighbor ? To



rake over the contents of an ash-pit, is not to study geology.
Tliere were motives in Redmain's own being, which he was not
merely incapable of understanding, but incapable of seeing, in-
capable of suspecting.

The game had for him all tlie pleasure of keenest specula-
tion ; nor that alone, for, in the supposed discovery of the evil
of another, he felt himself vaguely righteous.

One more point in his character I may not in fairness omit :
he liad naturally a strong sense of justice ; and, if he exercised
it but little in some of the relations of his life, he was none
the less keenly alive to his own claims on its score ; fur chieOy
he cried out for fair play on behalf of those who were wicked
m similar fashion to himself. But, in truth, no one dealt so
hardly with Kedmain as liis own conscience at such times when
sulTeri ng and fear had awaked it.

So much for a portrait-sketch of tiie man to whom Morti-
mer had sold his daughter — such was the man whom llesper,
entirely aware that none could compel her to marry against her
will, had, j)artly from fear of her father, partly from moral
laziness, i)arlly from reverence for the ^foloch of society, whoso
inicstess was her mother, vowed to love, honor, and obey ! In
justice to her, it must he remembered, however, that sho did
nut and could not know of him what la-r father knew.



In the autumn the Kedmains went to Durnmelling : why
they did so, I should lind it hard to say. If, when a child,
llesper loved either of her parents, the experiences of later
years had so heaped that filial affection with the fallen leaves
of dead hopes and vanished dreams, that there was now no-
thing in her heart recognizable to herself as love to father or
mother. She always behaved to them, of course, with perfect
l)ropriety ; never refused any small request ; never showed


resentment when blamed — never felt any, for she did not care
enough to be angry or sorry that father or mother should dis-

On the other hand, Lady Margaret saw great improvement
in her daughter. To the maternal eye, jealous for perfection,
Hesper's carriage was at length satisfactory. It was cold, and
the same to her mother as to every one else, but the mother
did not find it too cold. It was haughty, even repellent, but
by no means in the mother's eyes repulsive. Her voice came
from her in well-balanced sentences, sounding as if they had
been secretly constructed for extempore use, like the points of
a parliamentary orator. " Marriage has done everything for
her ! " said Lady Malice to herself with a dignified chuckle,
and dismissed the last shadowy remnant of maternal regret for
her part in the transaction of her marriage.

She never saw herself in the wrong, and never gave herself
the least trouble to be in the right. She was in good health,
ate, and liked to eat ; drank her glass of champagne, and
would have drunk a second, but for her complexion, and that
it sometimes made her feel ill, Avhich was the only thing, after
marrying Mr. Eedmain, she ever felt degrading. Of her own
worth she had never had a doubt, and she had none yet : how
was she to generate one, courted wherever she went, both for
her own beauty and her husband's wealth ?

To her father she was as stiff and proud as if she had been
a maiden aunt, bent on destroying what expectations from her
he might be cherishing. Who will blame her ? He had done
her all the ill he could, and by his own deed she was beyond
his reach. Nor can I see that the debt she owed him for be-
ing her father was of the heaviest.

Her husband was again out of health — certain attacks to
which he was subject were now coming more frequently. I do
not imagine his wife offered many prayers for his restoration.
Indeed, she never prayed for the thing she desired ; and, while
he and she occupied sej^arate rooms, the one solitary thing she
now regarded as a privilege, how could she pray for liis re-
covery ?

Greatly contrary to Mr. Redmain's unexpressed desire.


Miss YoUand had been installed as Ilesper's cousin-companion.
After the marriage, she ventured to unfold a little, as she had
promised, but what there was yet of womanhood in Hesper
had shrunk from further acquaintance with the dimly shadowed
mysteries of Sepia's story ; and Sepia, than whom none more
sensitive to change of atmosphere, luid instantly closed again ;
and now not unfrequently looked and spoke like one feeling
her way. The only life-j)rincii)le she had, so far as I know,
was to get from the moment the greatest possible enjoyment
that Avould leave the way clear for more to follow. She had
not been in his house a week before Mr. Redmain hated her.
He was something given to hating i)eople who came near him,
and she came much too near. She was ])y no means so diller-
ent in character as to be repulsive to him ; neither was she so
much alike as to be tiresome ; their designs could not well
clash, for she was a woman and he was a man ; if she had not
been his wife's friend, tliey might, j)erhai)s, have got on to-
gether better than well ; but the two were such as must cither
be hand in glove or hate each other. There had not, how-
ever, been the least approach to rupture U^tween them. Mr.
Kednuiin, indeed, took no trouble to avoid such a catastroi)he,

Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldMary Marston. A novel → online text (page 16 of 40)