George MacDonald.

Mary Marston. A novel online

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l)ut Sepia was far too wise to allow even the dawn of such a
risk. When he was ill, he was, if possible, more rude to her
tlian to every one else, but she did not seem to mind it a straw.
Perhaps she knew something of the ways of such (jcntlcmcii as
lose their manners the moment they are ailing, and seem to
consider a headaelie or an attack of indigestion excuse sulll-
cient for behaving like the cad they scorn. It was not long,
however, before he began to take in her a very real interest,
though not of a sort it would have made her comfortable with
him to know.

Every time Mr. Kedmain had an attack, the baldness on
tlie top of his head widened, and the skin of his face tightened
on his small, neat features ; his long arms looked longer ; his
formerly Hat back rounded yet a little ; and his temper grew
yet more curiously spiteful. Long after he had begun to re-
cover, he was by no means an agreeable companion. Xever-
thelesss, as if at last, though late in the day, she must begin to


teach her daugliter the duty of a married woman, from the
moment he arrived, taken ill on the way, Lady Malice, regard-
less of the brusqueness with which he treated her from the
first, devoted herself to him with an attention she had never
shown her husband. She was the only one who manifested
any appearance of affection for him, and the only one of the
family for whom, in return, he came to show the least consid-
eration. Eough he was, even to her, but never, except when
in absolute pain, rude as to everybody in the house besides.
At times, one might have almost thought he stood in some
little awe of her. Every night, after his man was gone, she
would visit him to see that he was left comfortable, would tuck
him up as his mother miglit have done, and satisfy herself that
the night-light was shaded from his eyes. With her own hands
she always arranged his breakfast on the tray, nor never omitted
taking him a basin of soup before he got up ; and, whatever he
may have concluded concerning her motives, he gave no sign
of imagining them other than generous. Perhaps the part in
him which had never had the opportunity of behaving ill to
his mother, and so had not choked up its channels with wrong,
remained, in middle age and illness, capable of receiving kind-

Hesper saw the relation between them, but without the
least pleasure or the least curiosity. She seemed to care for
nothing — except the keeping of her back straight. What could
it be, inside that lovely form, that gave itself pleasure to be,
were a difficult question indeed. The bear as he lies in his
winter nest, sucking his paw, has no doubt his rudimentary
theories of life, and those will coincide with a desire for its
continuance ; but whether what either the lady or the bear
counts tlie good of life, be really that which makes either de-
sire its continuance, is another question. Mere life without
suffering seems enough for most people, but I do not think it
could go on so for ever. I can not help fancying that, but for
death, utter dreariness would at length master the healthiest
in whom the true life has not begun to shine. But so satisfy-
ing is the mere earthly existence to some at present, that this
remark must sound to them bare insanity.


Partly out of compliment to Mr. Kedmain, the ^lortimers
had scarcely a visitor ; for he would not come out of his room
when he knew there was a stranger in the house. Fond of
com})any of a certain kind when he was well, he could not en-
dure an unknown face wlicn he was ill. lie told Lady Malice
that at such times a stranger always looked a devil to him.
Ilencc the time was dull for everybody — dullest, perhaps, for
Sc'})ia, who, as well as Kcdmain, had a few tilings that recjuired
forgetting. It was no wonder, then, that Ilesper, after a fort-
night of it, should think once more of" the young woman in
tiie draper's shop of Testbridge. One morning, in consequence,
she ordered her brouirham, ami drove to the town.

C'llAl'lKli Win.
Tin: mi:niai..

Things had been going nowise really better with Mary,
though there was now more lull and less storm around her. 'J'he
])osition was becoming less and less endurable to her, and slie
liad as yet no glimmer of a way out of it. Breath of genial
air never blew in the shop, except when this and that customer
entered it. lUit how dear the dull old cliapel had grown !
Not that she heard anything more to her mind, or that she
paid any more attention to what was said ; but the memory
of her father filled tlie ])lace, and when the Bible was read,
or some favorite hymn sung, he seemed to her actually j)res-
ent. And might not love, she thought, even love to her, be
strong enough to bring him from the gracious freedom of the
new life, back to the house of bondage, to share it for an hour
with his daughter ?

Wlien Ilesper entered, she was disappointed to see Mary so
much changed. But when, at sight of her, the pale face
brightened, and a faint, rosy Hush overspread it from brow to
chin, ^lary was herself again as Ilesper had known her ; and


the radiance of her own presence, reflected from Mary, cast a
reflex of sunshine into the February of Hesper's heart : had
Mary known how long it was since such a smile had lighted
the face she so mitch admired, hers would have flushed with
a profounder pleasure. Hesper was human after all, though
her humanity was only molluscous as yet, and it is not in the
power of humanity in any stage of development to hold itself
indifferent to the pleasure of being loved. Also, poor as is
the feeling comparatively, it is yet a reflex of love itself — the
shine of the sun in a rain-pool.

She walked u]) to Mary, holding out her hand.

^^0 ma'am, I am so glad to see you!" exclaimed Mary,
forgetting her manners in her love.

" I, too, am glad," drawled Hesper, genuinely, though with
condescension. '^ I hope you are well. I can not say you
look so."

*^ I am pretty well, thank you, ma'am," answered Mary,
flushing afresh : not much anxiety was anywhere expressed
about her health now, except by Beenie, who mourned over
the loss of her plumpness, and told lier if she did not eat she
would soon follow her poor father.

^' Come and have a drive with me," said Hesper, moved by
a sudden impulse : through some hidden motion of sympathy,
she felt, as she looked at her, that the place was stuffy. ^' It
will do you good," she went on. "You are too much in-
doors. — And the ceiling is low," she added, looking up.

"It is very kind of you," replied Mary, "but — I don't
think I could quite manage it to-day."

She looked round as she spoke. There were not many cus-
tomers ; but for conscience' sake she was trying hard to give as
little ground for offense as possible.

"Why not ?— If I were to ask Mr.—"

"If you really wish it, ma'am, I will venture to go for
half an hour. There is no occasion to speak to Mr. Turnbull.
Besides, it is almost dinner-time."

" Do, then. I am sure 3^ou will eat a better dinner for
having liad a little fresh air first. It is a lovely morning. We
will drive to the Roman camp on the top of Clover-down."


"I shall be ready in two minutes/' said Mary, and ran from
the shop.

As she passed along the outside of his counter coming
back, she stopped and told Mr. Turnbull where she was going.
Instead of answering her, he turned himself toward Mrs.
Redmain, and went through a series of bows and smiles re-
cognizant of favor, which she did not choose to see. She
turned and walked from the shop, got into the brougham, and
made room for ^fary at her side.

But, although the drive was a lovely one, and tlie view from
either window delightful, and to Mary it was like getting out
of a tomb to leave the shop in the middle of the day, she saw
little of tlie sweet country on any side, so much occupied was
she with Hesper. Ere tliey stopped again at the shop-door,
tlie two young women were nearer being friends than Ilesper
luid ever been with any one. The sleepy heart in lier was not
yet dead, but cai)ablc still of the pleasure of showing sweet
condescension and gentle j)atroiiage to one who admired her,
and was herself agreeable. To herself she justified her kind-
ness to Mary with the remark tiiat the young icoinan deserved
encourcKjvinent — whatever that might mean — because she was
so anxioiis to improve herself ! — a duty Ilesixjr could recognize
in anotlier.

As they went, ^fary told her something of her miseral)le
relations with the Turnbulls ; and, as they returned, Hesper
actually — tliis time with j)erfect seriousness — proposed that she
sliould give u]) business, aiul live with her.

Nor was this the ridiculous thing it may at first sight appear
to not a few of my readers. It arose from what was almost the
first movement in the direction of genuine friendship Hesper
had ever felt. She had been familiar in her time with a good
many, but familiarity is not friendship, and may or may not
exist along witli it. Some, who would scorn the idea of a
friendsTiip Avith such as Mary, will be familiar enough with
maids as selfish as themselves, and part from them — no — part
with them, the next day, or the next hour, with never a twinge
of regret. Of this, Hesper was as cai)able as any ; but friend-
ship is its own justification, and she felt no horror at the new


motion of her heart. At the same time she did not recognize
it as friendship, and, had she suspected Mary of regarding
their possible relation in that light, she would haye dismissed
her pride, perhaps contempt. Nevertheless the sorely whelmed
divine thing in her had uttered a feeble sigh of incipient long-
ing after the real ; Mary had begun to draw out the love in
her ; while her conventional judgment justified the proposed
extraordinary proceeding with the argument of the endless
advantages to result from having in the house, devoted to her
wishes, a young woman with an absolute genius for dress-
making ; one capable not only of originating in that foremost
of arts, but, no doubt, with a little experience, of carrying
out also with her own hands the ideas of her mistress. No
more would she have to send for the dressmaker on every
smallest necessity ! No more must she postpone confidence in
her appearance, that was, in herself, until Sepia, dressed,
should be at leisure to look her over ! Never yet had she found
herself the best dressed in a room : now there would be hope !

Nothing, however, was clear in her mind as to the position
she would have Mary occupy. She had a vague feeling that
one like her ought not to be expected to undertake things be-
fitting such women as her maid Folter ; for between Mary and
Folter there was, she saw, less room for comparison than be-
tween Folter and a naked Hottentot. She was incapable, at
the same time, of seeing that, in the eyes of certain courtiers
of a high kingdom, not much known to the world of fashion,
but not the less judges of the beautiful, there was a far greater
difference between Mary and herself than between herself and
her maid, or between her maid and the Hottentot. For, while
the said beholders could hardly have been astonished at Hes-
perus marrying Mr. Redmain, there would, had Mary done such
a thing, have . been dismay and a hanging of the head before
the face of her Father in heaven.

'^ Come and live with me. Miss Marston," said Hesper ; but
it was with a laugh, and tliat light touch of the tongue which
suggests but a flying fancy sj^oken but for the sake of the pre-
posterous ; while Mary, not forgetting she had heard the same
thing once before, heard it with a smile, and had no rejoinder


ready ; whereupon Hesper, wlio was, in reality, feeling lier way,
ventured a little more seriousness.

'^ I should never ask you to do anything you would not like,"
she said.

"I don't think you could,*' answered Mary. "There are
more things I should like to do for you than you would think
to ask. — In fact," she added, looking round with a loving-
smile, "I don't know v>hat I shouldn't like to do for you."

"My meaning was, that, as a thing of course, I should
never ask you to do anything menial," exj)laincd IIes])er, ven-
turing a little further still, and now speaking in a tone perfectly

'*I don't know what vou intend bv minitiL" returned

llesper thought it not unnatural she should not be familiar
witli tiie word, and jirocccdcd to explain it a.swell as she could.
That seeming ignorance may be the consequence of more knowl-
edge, she had yet to learn.

'* Menial, don't you know?" she said, "is wliat you give
servants to do."

But therewith she remembered thai Mary's help in eerlain
things wherein her maid's incapacity was harrowing, was one
of the ho])es she mainly cherished in nuiking her ])roposal :
tliat definition of menial would hardly do.

"I mean — I mean," she resumed, with a little embarrass-
ment, a rare thing with her, '* — things like — like — cleaning
one's shoes, don't you know ? — or brushing your hair."

Mary burst out laughing.

*' Let me come to you to-morrow morning," she said, '^and
I will brush your hair that you will want me to come again the
next day. You beautiful creature ! whose hands would n(jt be
honored to handle such stuff as that ? "

As she sj)oke, she took in her fingers a little stray drift from
the masses of golden twilight that crowned one of the loveliest
temples in which the Holy Ghost had not yet come to dwell.

** If cleaning your shoes be menial, brushing your hair must
be royal," she added.

Ilesper's heart was touched ; and if at the same time her


self was flattered, the flattery was mingled with its best anti-
dote — love.

'^Do you really mean," she said, "you would not mind
doing such things for me ? — Of course I should not be exacting."

She laughed again, afraid of showing herself too much in
earnest before she was sure of Mary.

" You would not ask me to do anything menial ? " said Mary,

*^*I dare not promise," said Hesper, in tone responsive.
*^ How could I help it, if I saw you longing to do what I was
longing to have you do ? " she added, growing more and more

"I would no more mind cleaning your boots than my own,"
said Mary.

" But I should not like to clean my own boots," rejoined

"No more should I, except it had to be done. Even then
I would much rather not," returned Mary, "for cleaning my
own would not interest me. To clean yours would. Still I
would rather not, for the time might be put to better use —
except always it were necessary, and tlien, of course, it couldn't.
But as to anything degrading in it, I scorn the idea. I heard
my father once say that, to look down on those who have to do
such things may be to despise them for just the one honorable
thing about them. — Shall I tell you what I understand by the
word menial ? You know it has come to have a disagreeable
taste about it, though at first it only meant, as you say, some-
thing that fell to the duty of attendants."

"Do tell me," answered Hesper, with careless permis-

"I did not find it out myself," said Mary. "My father
taught me. He was a wise as well as a good man, Mrs. Red-

" Oh ! " said Hesper, with the ordinary indifference of fash-
ionable people to what an inferior may imagine worth telling

"He said," persisted Mary, notwithstanding, "that it is
menial to undertake anything you think beneath you for the


sake of money ; and still more menial, having undertaken it,
not to do it as well as possible."

^'That would make out a good deal more of the menial in
the world than is commonly supposed," laughed Hesper. ''I
wonder who would do anything for you if you didn't ]niy them
— one wa}' or another I "

" I've taken my fathers shoes out of Beenie's hands many
a time," said Mary, ''and finished them myself, just for the
pleasure of making them shine for him/''

'* Kc-a-ally I" drawled Ilesper, and set out for the conclu-
sion that after all it was no such great comjjliment the young
woman had paid her in wanting to brush her hair. Evidently
she had a taste for low things I — was naturally menial I — would
do as much for her own fatlier as for a lady like her I liut llie
light in Mary's eyes checked her.

''Any service done without love, whatever it l)e,*' resumed
Mary, "is slavery — neither more nor less. It can not ])e any-
thing else. So, you sec, most slaves are made slaves by them-
selves ; and that is wliat makes me doubtful whether I ought
to go on serving in the shop ; for, as far as the Turnbulls are
concerned, I have no jtleasure in it ; I am only helping them
to make money, not doing them any good."

''Why do you not give it up at once then ?" asked Iles-

''Because IJike serving the customers. They were my fa-
ther's customers ; and I liave learned so much from having to
wait on them ! "

'• Well, now," said Hesper, with a rush for tlie goal, '* if you
will come to me, I will make you comfortable : and you shall
do just as much or as little as you please."

" What will your maid think ?" suggested Mary. " If 1 am
to do what I please, she will soon find me trespassing on her

" I never trouble myself about what my servants think,"
said Ilesper.

" But it might hurt her, you know — to be paid to do a thing,
and then not allowed to do it."

" She may take herself away, then. I had not thought of


parting with lier, but I should not he at all sorry if she went.
She would be no loss to me."

"Why should you keep her, then ?"

" Because one is just as good — and as bad as another. She
knows my ways, and I prefer not haying to break in a new one.
It is a bore to have to say how you like everything done."

" But you are speaking now as if you meant it," said Mary,
waking up to the fact that Hesper's tone was of business, and
she no longer seemed half playing with the proposal. " Do
you mean you v/ant me to come and live with you ? "

"Indeed, I do," answered Hesper, emphatically. "You
shall have a room close to my bedroom, and there you shall do
as you like all day long ; and, when I want you, I dare say you
will come."

"Fast enough," said Mary, cheerily, as if all was settled.
In contrast v/ith her present surroundings, the prospect was
more than attractive. " — But v/ould you let me have my
piano ? " she asked, with sudden apprehension.

"You shall have my grand piano always when I am out,
which will be every night in the season, I dare say. That will
give you plenty of practice ; and you will be able to have the
best of lessons. And think of the concerts and oratorios you
will go to ! "

As she spoke, the carriage drew up at the door of the shop,
and Mary took her leave. Hesper accepted her acknowledg-
ments in the proper style of a benefactress, and returned her
good-by kindly. But not yet did she shake hands with her.

Some of my readers may wonder that Mary should for a
moment dream of giving up what they would call lier inde-
pendence ; for was she not on her own ground in the shop of
which she was a proprietor ? and was the change proposed, by
whatever name it might be called, anything other than service 9
But they are outside it, and Mary was in it, and knew how lit-
tle such an independence was worth the name. Almost every-
thing about the shop had altered in its aspect to her. The
very air she breathed in it seemed slavish. Nor was the change
in her. The whole thing was gi'owing more and more sordid,
for now — save for her part — the one spirit ruled it entirely.


The work had therefore more or less grown a drudgery to lier.
The spirit of gain was in full blast, and whoever did not trim
his sails to it was in danger of finding it rough weather. No
longer could she, without offense, and consequent disturbance
of spirit, arrange her attendance as she pleased, or have the
same time for reading as before. She could encounter black
looks, but she could not well live with them ; and how was she
to continue the servant of such ends as were now exclusively
acknowledged in the i)lace ? The projiosal of Mrs. I^edmain
stood in advantageous contrast to this treadmill-work. In her
house she would be called only to the ministrations of love,
and would have ])lenty of time for books and music, with a
thousand means of growth unapproachable in All
the slavery lay in the shop, all the freedom in the personal ser-
vice. But she strove hard to supjiress anxiety, for she saw
that, of all poverty-stricken contradictions, a Christian with
little faith is the worst.

U'he chief attraction to her, however, was simply Ilosper
herself. Siie had fallen in love with her — I hardly know how
othcrwi.^c to describe the current with which her being set
toward her. Few hearts are capable of loving as slie loved.
It was not merely that she saw in Ilesper a grand creature, and
lovely to look upon, or that one so much her superior in posi-
tion showed such a liking for herself ; siie saw in her one she
could help, one at least who sorely needed help, for she seemed
to know nothing of what made life worth having — one who
had done, and must yet be capable of doing, things degrading
to the humanity of womanhood. Without the hope of helping
in the highest sense, Mary could not have taken up her abode
in such a house as Mrs. IJedmain's. No outward service of any
kind, even to the sick, was to her service enough to choose ;
were it laid upon her, she would hasten to it ; for necessity is
the push, gentle or strong, as the man is more or less obedient,
by which God sends him into the path he would have him
take. But to help to the birth of a beautiful Psyche, envel-
oped all in the gummy cerecloths of its chrysalis, not yet
aware, even, that it must get out of them, and spread great
wings to the sunny wind of God — that was a thing for which


the holiest of saints might well take a servant's place — the
thing for which the Lord of life had done it before him. To
help out such a lovely sister — how Hesper would have drawn
herself up at the word ! it is mine, not Mary's — as she would
be when no longer holden of death, but her real self, the self
God meant her to be when he began making her, would indeed
be a thing worth having lived for ! Between the ordinarily
benevolent woman and Mary Marston, there was about as great
a difference as between the fashionable church-goer and Cath-
erine of Siena. She would be Hesper's servant that she
might gain Hesper. I would not have her therefore wondered
at as a marvel of humility. She was simply a young woman
who believed that the man called Jesus Christ is a real person>
such as those represent him who profess to have known him ;
and she therefore believed the man himself — believed that,
when he said a thing, he entirely meant it, knowing it to be
true ; believed, therefore, that she had no choice but do as he
told her. That man was the servant of all ; therefore, to re-
gard any honest service as degrading would be, she saw, to
deny Christ, to call the life of creation's hero a disgrace. Nor
was he the first servant ; he did not of himself choose his life ;
the Father gave it him to live — sent him to be a servant, be-
cause he, the Father, is the first and greatest servant of all.
He gives it to one to serve as the rich can, to another as the
poor must. The only disgrace, whether of the counting-house,
the shop, or the family, is to think the service degrading. If
it be such, why not sit down and starve rather than do it ?
No man has a right to disgrace himself. Starve, I say ; the world
will lose nothing in you, for you are its disgrace, who count
service degrading. You are much too grand people for what
your Maker requires of you, and does himself, and yet you do
it after a fashion, because you like to eat and go warm. You
would take rank in the kingdom of hell, not the kingdom of
heaven. But obedient love, learned by the meanest Abigail,
will make of her an angel of ministration, such a one as he who
came to Peter in the prison, at whose touch the fetters fell
from the limbs of the apostle.

^' What forced, overdriven, Utopian stuff ! A kingdom al-


ways coming, and never come I I hold by what is. This solid,
plowable earth will serye my turn. My business is what I can
find in the oyster."

I hear you, friend. Your answer will come whence you do
not look for it. For some, their only answer will be the coming

Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldMary Marston. A novel → online text (page 17 of 40)