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George MacDonald.

Mary Marston. A novel online

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kei)t lier place by the chimney, her gaze transferred from the
fire to the novel she had sent for from her bedroom.



CllATTKU X\V.

M A R Y 's n i:r i: pt i o x .

Ix the afternoon of the same day, now dreary enough, with
tlie dreariness naturally belonging to the dreariest month of
the year, Mary arrived in the city preferred to all cities by
those who live in it, but the most uninviting, I should imagine,
to a stranger, of all cities on the face of the earth. Cold
fieemed to have taken to itself a visible form in the thin, gray
fog that filled the huge station from the platform to the glass
roof. The latter had vanished, indistinguishable from sky in-
visible, and from the brooding darknes.-?, in Avhicli the lamps
innumerable served only to make spots of thinness. It was a
mist, not a November fog, properly so called ; but every breath
breathed by every porter, as he ran along by the side of the
slowly halting train, was adding to its mass, which seemed to
Mary to grow in bulk and density as she gazed. Her quiet,



212 MABY MAR8T0K

simple, decided manner at once secured her attention, and she
was among the first who had their boxes on cabs and were
driying away.

But. the driye seemed interminable, and she had grown anx-
ious and again calmed herself many times, before it came to an
end. The house at which the cab drew up was large, and
looked as dreary as large, but scarcely drearier than any other
house in London on that same night of November. The cab-
man rang the bell, but it was not until they had waited a time
altogether unreasonable that the door at length opened, and a
lofty, well-built footman in livery appeared framed in it.

Mary got out, and, going up the steps, said she hoped the
driver had brought her to the right house : it was Mrs. Eed-
main's she wanted.

'' Mrs. Redmain is not at home, miss," answered the man.
" I didn't hear as how she was expecting of any one," he added,
with a glance at the boxes, formlessly visible on the cab, through
the now thicker darkness.

*'*She is expecting me, I know," returned Mary; *^ but of
course she would not stay at home to receive me," she remarked,
with a smile.

^^Oh ! " returned the man, in a peculiar tone, and adding,
''I'll see," went away, leaving her on the top of the steps, with
the cabman behind her, at the bottom of them, waiting orders
to get her boxes down.

''It don't appear as you was overwelcome, miss !" he re-
marked : with his comrades on the stand he jiassed for a wit ;
" — leastways, it don't seem as your sheets was quite done hair-
ing."

"It's all right," said Mary, cheerfully.

She was not ready to imagine her dignity in danger, there-
fore did not provoke assault \x])on it by anxiety for its safety.

"I'm sorry to hear it, miss," the man rejoined.

"Why?" she asked.

" 'Cause I should ha' liked to ha' taken yoic farther."

" But v/hy ?" said Mary, the second time, not understand-
ing him, and not unwilling to cover the awkwardness of that
slow minute of waiting.



MAEY'S RECEPTIOX. 213

" Because it gives a poor man with a whole family o' prowo-
cations some'at of a chance, to 'ave a affable young lady like
you, miss, behind him in his cab, once a year, or thereabouts.
It's not bv no means as I'd have you go farther and fare worse,
which it's a sayin' as I've hecrd said, miss. 80, if you're sure
o' the place, I may as well be a-gettin' down of your boxes."

So saying, he got on the cab, and proceeded to unfasten the
chain that secured the luggage.

'* Wait a bit, cabbie. Don't you be in scch a 'urry as if you
was a 'ansom, now," cried the footman, reappearing at the
farther end of the hall. " I should be sorry if there was a mis-
take, and you wasn't man enough to put your boxes up again
without assistance." Then, turning to Mary, "Mrs. IVrkin
says, miss — that's the housekeeper, miss," he went on, " — that,
if as you're the young woman from tlie country — and I'm sure
I beg your i)ardon if 1 make a mi.-take — it ain't my fault, miss
— Mrs. Perkin says she did liear Mrs. Kedmain make mention
of (jiie, but she didn't have any instructions concerning her. —
Hut, as there you are," he contiiuu'd more familiarly, gathering
courage from Mary's nodded assent, **you can put your boxes
in the hall, and sit down, slie Siiys, till Mrs. It. conu's 'ome."

*'Do you think she will be long ?" asked Mary.

'• Well, that's what no fellow can't say, seein' its a new play
ils she's gone to. They call it Doomsday, an' there's no tellin'
when parties is likely to come 'ome from that," said the man,
with a grin of satisfaction at his own wit.

AVas London such a happy ]>lace that cvcrvliody in it was
given to joking, thought Mary.

*''Ere, mister! gi' me a 'and wi' this 'ere luggage," cried
the cabman, linding the box he was getting down too much for
him. ** Yah wouldn't sec me break my back, an' my i)oor
'orse standin' there a lookin' on — would ye now ?"

'•Why don't you bring a man with you?'' objected the
footman, as he descended the steps notwithstanding, to give
the required assistance. ** I ain't paid as a crane. — By Juppi-
ter ! what a weight the new party's boxes is I "

*'Only that one,'' said Mary, apologetically. ^' It is full of
books. The other is not half so heavy."



214 MAEY MARSTON.

^^ Oh, it ain't the weight, miss !" returned the footman,
who had not intended she should hear the remark. '' I believe
Mr. Cabman and myself will prove equal to the occasion."

With that the book-box came down a gi'eat bump on the
pavement, and presently both were in the hall, the one on the
top of the other. Mary paid the cabman, who asked not a
penny more than his fare ; he departed with thanks ; the face-
tious footman closed the door, told her to take a seat, and went
away full of laughter, to report that the young person had
brought a large library with her to enliven the dullness of her
new situation.

Mrs. Perkin smiled crookedly, and, in a tone of pleasant re-
proof, desired her laughter-compressing inferior not to forget
his manners.

^^ Please, ma'am, am I to leave the young woman sittin' up
there all by herself in the cold ? " he asked, straightening him-
self up. " She do look a rayther superior sort of young per-
son," he added, ^^and the 'all-stove is dead out."

*^^ror the present. Castle," replied Mrs. Perkin.

She judged it wise to let the young woman have a lesson at
once in subjection and inferiority.

Mrs. Perkin was a ratlier tall, rather thin, quite straight,
and very dark-complexioned woman. She always threw her
head back on one side and her chin out on the other when
she spoke, and had about her a great deal of the authoritative,
which she mingled with such consideration toward her subordi-
nates as to secure their obedience to her, while she cultivated
antagonism to her mistress. She had liad a better education
than most persons of her class, but was morally not an atom
their superior in consequence. She never went into a new
place but with the feeling that she was of more importance by
far than her untried mistress, and tlie wortliier person of" the
two. She entered her service, therefore, as one whose work it
was to take care of herself against a woman whose mistress
she ought to have been, had Providence but started her with
her natural rights. At the same time, she would liave been
almost as much offended by a hint that slie was not a Christian,
as she would have been by a doubt whether she was a lady.



MARY'S RECEPTIOX. 015

For, indeed, she was both, if a great opinion of herself consti-
tuted the latter, and a great opinion of going to churcli con-
stituted the former.

She had not been taken into Ilesper's confidence with re-
gard to Mary, had discovered that ••'a young person'' was ex-
pected, but had learned nothing of what her position in the
house was to be. She welcomed, therefore, this opportunity
both of teaching Mrs. Redmain — she never called her lier mis-
trals, while severely she insisted on the other servants' speak-
ing of her so — the propriety of taking counsel with her house-
keeper and of letting the young person know in time that
Mrs. Perkin was in reality her mistress.

Tlie relation of the upper servants of tlie house to tlicir
cmi)loyers was more like that of the managers of an hotel to
their guests. The butler, the lady's-maid, and Mr. Kedmain's
body-servant, who bad been witli liim before his marriage, and
was supposed to be deep in liis master's confidence, ate witli
the housekeeper in her room, waited upon by the livery and
nuiid-servants, except tlie second cook : the first cook only
came to su])erintend the cooking of the dinner, and went away
after. To all these Mrs. Perkin was careful to be just ; and, if
she was precise even to severity with them, she was herself
obedient to the system she had established — the main feature
of which was punctuality. Slie not only regarded punctuality
as the foremost of virtues, but, in righteous moral sequence,
made it tlie first of her duties ; and the benefit everybody
ivai)ed. For nothing oils the household wheels so well as this
same punctuality. In a family, love, if it be strong, genuine,
and patent, will make up for anything ; but, where there is no
family and no love, the loss of punctuality will soon turn a
house into the mere pouch of a social iufenin. Here the mas-
ter and mistress came and went, regardless of each other, and
of all household polity ; but their meals were ready for them
to the minute, when they chose to be there to eat them ; the
carriage came round like one of the puppets on the Strasburg
clock ; the house was quiet as a hospital ; the bells were an-
swered — all except the door-bell outside of calling hours — with
swiftness ; you could not soil your fingers anywhere — not even



216 MARY MARSTON.

if the sweep had been that same morning ; the manners of the
servants — ivhen serving — were unexceptionable ; but the house
was scarcely more of a home than one of the huge hotels
characteristic of the age.

In the hall of it sat Mary for the space of an hour, not ex-
actly learning the lesson Mrs. Perkin had intended to teach
her, but learning more than one thing Mrs. Perkin was not
yet capable of learning. I can not say she was comfortable,
for she was both cold and hungry ; but she was far from mis-
erable. She had no small gift of patience, and had taught
herself to look upon the less troubles of life as on a bad dream.
There are children, though not yet many, capable, through
faith in their parents, of learning not a little by their expe-
rience, and Mary was one of such : from the first she received
her father's lessons like one whose business it was to learn
them, and had thereby come to learn where he had himself
learned. Hence she was not one to say our Father in heaven,
and act as if there were no such Father, or as if he cared but
little for his children. She was even foolish enough to believe
that that Father both knew and cared that she was hungry
and cold and wearily uncomfortable ; and thence she was weak
enough to take the hunger and cold and discomfort as mere
passing trifles, which could not last a moment longer than
they ought. From her sore-tried endeavors after patience, had
grown the power of active waiting — and a genuinely waiting
child is one of the loveliest sights the earth has to show.

This was not the reception she had pictured to herself, as
the train came rushing from Testbridge to London ; she had
not, indeed, imagined a warm one, but she had not expected to
be forgotten — for so she interpreted her abandonment in the
hall, which seemed to grow colder every minute. She saw no
means of reminding the household of her neglected presence,
and indeed would rather have remained where she was till the
morning than encounter the growing familiarity of the man
who had admitted her. She did think once — if Mrs. Redmain
were to hear of her reception, how she would resent it ! and
would have found it difficult to believe how far people like her
are from troubling themselves about the behavior of their ser-



MARY'S RECEPTION. 217

yants to other people ; for they have no idea of an obligation
to rule their own house, neither seem to have a notion of being
accountable for what goes on in it.

She had grown very weary, and began to long for a floor
on which she might stretch herself ; there was not a sound in
the house but the ticking of a clock somewhere ; and she was
now wondering whether everybody had gone to bed, when she
heard a step approaching, and presently Castle, who Wiis the
only man at home, stood up before her, and, with the ease of
perfect self-satisfaction, and as if there was nothing in the neg-
lect of Jier but the custom of the liouse to cool people well in
the hall before admitting them to its penetralia, said, *' Step
this way — miss " ; the last word added after a pause of pre-
tended hesitation, for tlie man had taken his cue from the
li()usekeei)er.

Mary rose, and followed him to the basement story, into a
comfortaljlc room, where s«it Mrs. Terkin, embroidering large
sunflowers on a piece of coarse stulT. She was artistic, and
despised the whole style of the house.

"You may sit down,'* she said, and ])ointed to a chair near
the door.

^lary, not a little amused, for all her discomfort, did as she
was i)ermitted, and awaited what should come next.

*'What ])art of the country are you from?" asked Mrs.
Pcrkiii, with her usual diag



Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldMary Marston. A novel → online text (page 19 of 40)