George MacDonald.

Mary Marston. A novel online

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In the narrow walk of his commerce — behind the counter,
I mean — Mr. Marston stood up tall and straight, lank and lean,
seldom bending more than his long neck in the direction of the
counter, but doing eyerything needful upon it notwithstand-
ing, from the unusual length of his arms and his bony hands.
His forehead was high and narrow, his face pale and thin, his
hair long and thin, his nose aquiline and thin, his eyes large,
his mouth and chin small. He seldom spoke a syllable more
than was needful, but his words breathed calm respect to every
customer. His conversation with one was commonly all but
over as he laid something for approval or rejection on the
counter : he had already taken every pains to learn the precise
nature of the necessity or desire ; and what he then offered he
submitted without comment ; if the thing was not judged
satisfactor}^, he removed it and brought another. Many did
not like this mode of service ; they would be helped to buy ;
unequal to the task of making up their minds, they welcomed
any aid toward it ; and therefore preferred Mr. Turnbull, who
gave them every imaginable and unimaginable assistance, grov-
eling before them like a man whose many gods came to him
one after the other to be worshiped ; while Mr. Marston, the
moment the thing he i^resented was on the counter, shot
straight up like a poplar in a sudden calm, his visage bearing
witness tliat his thought was already far away — in heavenly
places with his wife, or hovering like a perplexed bee over some
difficult passage in the New Testament ; Mary could liave told


which, for she knew the meaning of every shadow that passed
or lingered on his countenance.

His partner and his like-minded son despised him, as a mat-
ter of course ; his unbusiness-like habits, as they counted them,
were tlie constantly recurring theme of their scorn ; and some
of these would doubtless have brought him the disapprobation
of many a business man of a moral development beyond that
of Turnbull ; but Mary saw nothing in them which did not
stamp her father tlie superior of all other men she knew.

To mention one thing, which may serve as typical of the
man: he not unfrequently sold things under the price marked
by his i)artner. Against this breach of fealty to the firm Turn-
bull never ceased to level his biggest guns of indignation and
remonstrance, though always without etfect. lie even lowered
himself in his own eyes so far as to quote Scripture like a cant-
ing dissenter, and remind his ])artner of what came to a house
divided against itself. He did not sec that the best tiling for
some houses must be to come to pieces. " Well, but, Mr. Turn-
bull, I thought it was marked too higli," was the otlier's inva-
riable answer. *' William, you are a fool," his partner would
rejoin for the hundredth time. " Will you never understand
that, if we get a little more tiian the customary profit upon one
thing, we get less upon another? You must make the thing
even, or come to the workhouse." Thereto, for the hundredth
time also, William Marsion would reply: ** That miijlit \u)\([,
1 daresay, ^Ir. Turnbull — I am not sure — if every customer
always bought an article of each of the two sorts together ; but
I can't make it straight with my conscience that one customer
should i)ay too imich because I let another pay too little. Be-
sides, 1 am not at all sure that the general scale of j)rofit is not
set too high. I fear you and I will have to })art, Mr. Turnbull."
But nothing was further from Turnbull's desire than that he
and Marston should part ; he could not keep the business going
without his money, not to mention that he never doubted Mars-
ton would straightway open another shop, and, even if he did
not undersell him, take from him all his dissenting customers ;
for the junior partner was deacon of a small Baptist church in
the town — a fact which, although like vinegar to the teeth and


smoke to the eyes of John Turnbull in his villa, was inyaluable
in the eyes of John Turnbull behind his counter.

Whether William Marston was right or wrong in his ideas
about the rite of baptism — probably he Avas both — he was cer-
tainly right in his relation to that which alone makes it of any
value — that, namely, which it signifies ; buried with his Mas-
ter, he had died to selfishness, greed, and trust in the second-
ary ; died to evil, and risen to good — a ney/ creature. He was
just as much a Christian in his shop as in the chapel, in his
bedroom as at the prayer-meeting.

But the world was not now much temptation to him, and,
to tell the truth, he was getting a good deal tired of the sho]3.
He had to remind himself, oftener and oftener, that in the
mean time it was the work given him to do, and to take more
and more frequently the strengtliening cordial of a glance
across the shop at his daughter. Such a glance passed through
the dusky place like summer lightning through a heavy atmos-
phere, and came to Mary like a glad jorophecy ; for it told of a
world within and beyond the world, a region of love and faith,
where struggled no antagonistic desires, no counteracting aims,
but unity was the visible garment of truth.

The question may well suggest itself to my reader — How
could such a man be so unequally yoked with such another as
Turnbull ? — To this I reply that Marston's greatness had 3'et a
certain repressive power tipon the man who despised him, so
that he never uttered his worst thoughts or revealed his worst
basenesses in his presence. Marston never thought of him as
my reader must soon think — flattered himself, indeed, that
poor John was gradually improving, coming to see things more
and more as he would have him look on them. Add to this,
that they had been in the business together almost from boy-
hood, and much will be exj)lained.

An open carriage, with a pair of showy but ill-matched
horses, looking unfit for country work on the one hand, as for
Hyde Park on the other, drew up at the door ; and a visible
wave of interest ran from end to end of tlie shop, swaying as
well those outside as those inside the counter, for the carriage
was well known in Testbridge. It was that of Lady Margaret


Moi-timcr ; she did not herself like the Jfargaref, and signed
only her second name Alice at full length, whence her friends
generally called her to each other Lady Malice. She did not
leave the carriage, but continued to recline motionless in it, at
an angle of forty-five degrees, wrapped in furs, for the day was
cloudy and cold, her pale handsome face looking inexpressibly
more indifferent in its ref^^ard of earth and sky and the c:oin£rs
of men, than that of a corpse wliose gaze is only on the inside
of the cothn-lid. But the two ladies who were with her got
down. One of them was her daughter, Ilesper by name, who,
from the dull, cloudy atmosphere that filled the doorway, en-
tered the shop like a gleam of sunshine, dusky-golden, followed
by a glowing shadow, in the person of lur (..n-in. Miss Y..1-

Turnbull hurried to meet them, bowing pruloundly, and
looking very much like Issacliar between the chairs he carried.
lUit tliey turned a^idc to where Mary stood, and in a few min-
utes the counter was covered witli various stulTs for some of
the smaller articles of ladies' attire.

The customers were hard to please, for they wanted the
best things at the price of inferior ones, and Mary noted that
the desires of the cousin were farther reaching and nu)re ex-
])ensive than those of Miss Mortimer. liut, though in this way
hard to })lease, they were not therefore unpleasant to deal with ;
and from the moment she looked the latter in the face, whom
she had not seen since she was a girl, Mary could liardly take
ht'r eyes off her. All at once it struck her how well the un-
usual, fantiistic name her inotlRT had given her suited her ;
and, as she gazed, the fueling grew.

Large, and grandly made, Hi'si)er stood "straiglit, and
steady, aiul tall," dusky-fair, and colorless, with the carriage
of a young matron. Her brown hair seemed ever scathed and
crinkled afresh by the ethereal flame that here and there peeped
from amid the unwilling volute rolled back from her creamy
forehead in a rebellious coronet. Her eyes Avere large and
hazel ; her nose cast gently upward, answering the carriage of
her head ; her mouth decidedly large, but so exquisite in draw-
ing and finish that the loss of a centimetre of its length would


to a lover have been as the loss of a kingdom ; her cliin a trifle
large, and grandly lined ; for a woman's, her throat was mas-
sive, and her arms and hands were powerful. Her expression
was frank, almost brave, her eyes looking full at the person
she addressed. As she gazed, a kind of love she had never felt
before kept swelling in Mary's heart.

Her companion impressed her very differently.

Some men, and most women, counted Miss Yolland strange-
ly ugly. But there were men who exceedingly admired her.
Not very slight for her stature, and above the middle height,
she looked small beside Hesper. Her skin was very dark, with
a considerable touch of sallowness ; her eyes, which were large
and beautifully shaped, were as black as eyes could be, with
light in the midst of their blackness, and more than a touch of
hardness in the midst of their liquidity ; her eyelashes were
singularly long and black, and she seemed conscious of them
every time they rose. She did not use her eyes habitually, but,
when she did, the thrust was sudden and straight. I heard a
man once say that a look from her was like a volley of small-
arms. Like Hesper's, her mouth was large and good, with
fine teeth ; her chin projected a little too much ; her hands
were finer than Hesper's, but bony. Her name was Septimia ;
Lady Margaret called her Sepia, and the contraction seemed to
so many suitable that it was ere long generally adopted. She
was in mourning, with a little crape. To the first glance
she seemed as unlike Hesper as she could well be ; but, as she
stood gently regarding the two, Mary, gradually, and to her
astonishment, became indubitably aware of a singular likeness
between them. Sepia, being a few years older, and in less
flourishing condition, had her features sharper and finer, and
by nature her complexion was darker by shades innumerable ;
but, if the one was the evening, the other was the niglit : Se-
pia was a diminished and overshadowed Hesper. Their man-
ner, too, was similar, but Sepia's was the haughtier, and she
had an occasional look of defiance, of which there appeared
nothing in Hesper. When first she came to Durnmelling,
Lady Malice had once alluded to tlie dependence of her po-
sition — ^but only once : tliere came a flash into ratlier than out


of Sepia's eyes that made any repetition of the insult impos-
sible, and Lady Malice wish that she had left her a wanderer
on the face of Europe.

Sepia was the daughter of a clergyman, an uncle of Lady
Malice, whose sons had all gone to the bad, and whose daugh-
ters had all vanished from society. Shortly before the time at
which my narrative begins, one of tlie lattir, however, namely
Sej)ia, tlie youngest, liad rc'api)eared, a fragment of the family
wreck, floating over the gulf of its destruction. Nobody knew
with any certainty where she had been in the interim : nobody
at Durnmelling knew anything but what she chose to tell, and
that was not much. She said she had been a governess in Aus-
trian Poland and Russia. Lady Margaret had become recon-
ciled to her presence, and IIe.>j)er attached to her.

Of the men who, as I have said, admired her, some felt a
peculiar enchantment in what they called her ugliness; others
declared her devilish handsome ; and some shrank from her as if
with an unde-fincd dread of j)erilous entanglement, if she should
but catch them looking her in the face. Among some of them
she was known as Lucifer, in antithesis to Hespcr : they meant
the Lucifer of darkness, not the liglit-l)ringcr of the morning.

Tlic ladies, on their part, especially llesper, were much
pleased with Mary. The simplicity of her address and manner,
the pains she took to find the exact thing she wanted, and the
modest decision with which she answered any reference to her,
made llesper even like her. The most artificially educated of
women is yet human, and capable of even more than liking a
fellow-creature as such. When their purchases were ended,
she took her leave with a kind smile, which went on glowing
in Mary's heart long after she had vanished.

*^IIome, John," said Lady Margaret, the moment the two
ladies were seated. '* I hope you have got all you wanted.
We shall be late for luncheon, I fear. I would not for worlds
keep Mr. Redmain waiting. — A little faster, John, please."

Ilesper's face darkened. Sepia eyed her fixedly, from under
tlie mingling of ascended lashes and descended brows. The
coachman pretended to obey, but the horses knew very well
when he did and when he did not mean them to go, and took


not a step to the minute more : John had regard to the splen-
did-looking black horse on the near side, which was weak in
the wind, as well as on one fired pastern, and cared little for
the anxiety of his mistress. To him, horses were the final peak
of creation — or if not the horses, the coachman, whose they are
— masters and mistresses the merest parasitical adjuncts. He
got them home in good time for luncheon, notwithstanding —
more to Lady Margaret's than Hesper's satisfaction.

Mr. Eedmain was a bachelor of fifty, to whom Lady Mar-
garet was endeayoring to make the family agreeable, in the hope
he might take Hesper off their hands. I need not say he was
rich. He was a common man, with good cold manners, which
he offered you like a handle. He was selfish, capable of pick-
ing up a lady's handkerchief, but hardly a wife's. He was
attentive to Hesper ; but she scarcely concealed such a repug-
nance to him as some feel at sight of strange fishes — being at
the same time afraid of him, which was not surprising, as she
could hardly fail to perceiye the fate intended for hei*.

^^ Ain't Miss Mortimer a stunner?" said George Turnbull
to Mary, when the tide of customers had finally ebbed from the

^'I don't exactly know what you mean, George," answered

'^ Oh, of course, I know it ain't fair to ask any girl to ad-
mire another," said George. *^But there's no offense to you,
Mary. One young lady can't carry every merit on her back.
She'd be too lovely to live, you know. Miss Mortimer ain't
got your waist, nor she ain't got your 'ands, nor your 'air ;
and 3^ou ain't got her size, nor the sort of hair she 'as with

He looked up from the piece of Icno he was smoothing out,
and saw he was alone in the shop.




The next day was Sunday at last, a day dear to fril who do
anything like their duty in the week, whether they go to church
or not. For Mary, she went to the Baptist chapel ; it was her
custom, rendered holy by the companionship of her father. But
this day it was with more than ordinary restlessness and lack of
interest that she stood, knelt, and sat, through the routine of
observance ; for old Mr. Duppa was certainly duller than usual:
how could it ])e otherwise, when he had been preparing to spend
a mortal liour in descanting on the reasons which necessitated
the separation of all true Baptists from all brother-believers ?
The narrow, higli-souk-d little man — for a soul as well as a fore-
head can be both high and narrow — was dull tluiL morning be-
cause he spoke out of his narrowness, and not out of his height;
and Mary was better justified in feeling bored than even when
George Turnbull i)lagueil her with his vulgar attentions. "When
she got out at last, sedate as slic was, she could hardly help skip-
I)ing along the street by her father's side. Far better than chapel
was their nice little cold dinner together, in their only sitting-
room, redolent of the multifarioiis goods piled around it on all
the rest of the iloor. Greater yet was the following pleasure
— of making her father lie down on flic sofa, and reading him
to sleep, after which she would doze a little herself, and dream
a little, in the great chair that had been her grandmother's.
Then they had their tea, and then her father always went to
sec the minister before chapel in the evening.

When he was gone, Mary would put on her pretty straw
bonnet, and set out to visit Letty Lovel at Thornwick. Some
of the church-members thought this habit of taking a walk, in-
stead of going again to the chapel, very worldly, and did not
scruple to let her know their opinion ; but, so long as her father
was satisfied with her, Mary did not care a straw for the world
besides. She was too much occupied with obedien^'C to trouble
her head about opinion, either her own or other people's. Not
until a question comes puzzling and troubling us so as to para-


lyze the energy of our obedience is there any necessity for its
solution, or any probability of finding a real one. A thousand
foolish doctrines may lie unquestioned in the mind, and never
interfere with the growth or bliss of him who liyes in active
subordination of his life to the law of life : obedience will in
time exorcise them, like many another worse devil.

It had drizzled all the morning from the clouds as well as
from the pulpit, but, just as Mary stepped out of the kitchen-
door, the sun stepped out of the last rain-cloud. She walked
quickly from the town, eager for the fields and the trees, but
in some dread of finding Tom Helmer at the stile ; for he was
such a fool, she said to herself, that there was no knowing what
he might do, for all she had said ; but he had thought better of
it, and she was soon crossing meadows and cornfields in peace,
by a path which, with many a winding, and many an w.]) and
down, was the nearest way to Thornwick.

The saints of old did well to pray God to lift on them the
light of his countenance : has the Christian of the new time
learned of his Master that the clouds and the sunshine com.e
and go of themselves ? If tlic sunshine fills the hearts of old
men and babes and birds with gladness and praise, and God
never meant it, then are they all idolaters, and have but a care-
less Father. Sweet earthy odors rose about Mary from the wet
ground ; the rain-drops glittered on the grass and corn-blades
and hedgerows ; a soft (JUmp wind breathed rather than blew
about tlie gaps and gates ; with an upward springing, like that
of a fountain momently gathering strength, the larks kept
shooting aloft, there, like music-rockets, to explode in showers
of glowing and sj^arkling song ; while, all the time and over
all, the sun as he went down kept shining in the might of his
peace ; and the heart of ]\Iary praised her Father in heaven.

Where the narrow path ran westward for a little way, so
that she could see nothing for the sun in her eyes, in the mid-
dle of a plowed field she would have run right against a gen-
tleman, had he been as blind as she ; but, his back being to
the sun, he ^aw her perfectly, and stepped out of her way into
the midst of a patch of stiff soil, where the rain was yet lying
between the furrows. She saw him then, and as, lifting his


hat, he stepped again upon the path, she recognized Mr.

'*0h, your nice boots I'' she cried, in the childlike distress
of a simple soul discovering itself the cause of catastrophe, for
his boots were smeared all over with yellow clay.

"It only serves me right,*' returned Mr. "Wardour, ^vith a
laugh of amusement. " I oughtn't to have put on such thin
ones at the first smile of summer."

Again he lifted his hat, and walked ou.

Mary also pursued her path, genuinely though gently
pained that one should have stepped up to the ankles in mud
on her account. As I have already said, excei)t in the shop
she had never before spoken to Mr. Wardour, and, allliough
he had so simply responded lo her exclamation, he did not
even know who she was.

The friendship which now drew Mary to Thornwick, God-
frey Wardour's jilace, wa.s not one of long date. Slie and
Letty Lovel had, it is true, known each other for years, but
only quite of late liad their accjuaintance ripened into some-
thing better ; and it was not without ])rotestation on tlie part
of Mrs. "Wardour, Ciodfrey's mother, that slic had seen the
growth of an intimacy between tlio two yonng women. The
society of a shopwoman, she often remarked, was far from
suitable for one who, as the daughter of a j)rofessional man,
might lay claim to the position of a gentlewoman. For I^etty
was the orj)han daughter of a country surgeon, a cousin of
^Irs. "Wardour, for whom she had had a great liking while yet
they were boy and girl together. At the same time, however
much she would have her consider herself the sujjerior of Mary
Marston, she by no means treated her as her own ecpial, and
Letty could not help being afraid of her aunt, as she called

The well-meaning woman was in fact possessed by two
devils — the one the stiiT-neeked devil of ])ride, the other the
condescending devil of benevolence. She was kind, but she
must have credit for it ; and Letty, although the child of a
loved cousin, must not presume upon that, or forget that the
wife and mother of long-descended proprietors of certain acres



of land was greatly the superior of any man who lived by the
exercise of the best-educated and most helpful profession.
She counted herself a devout Christian, but her ideas of rank,
at least — ^therefore certainly not a few others — were absolutely
opposed to the Master's teaching : they who did least for oth-
ers were her aristocracy.

Now, Letty was a simple, true-hearted girl, rather slow,
who honestly tried to understand her aunt's position with re-
gard to her friend. ^'Shop-girls," her aunt had said, ''are
not fitting company for you, Letty."

"I do not know any other shop-girls, aunt," Letty replied,
with hidden trembling ; "but, if they are not nice, then they
are not like Mary. She's downright good ; indeed she is,
aunt ! — a great deal, ever so much, better than I am."

"That may well be," answered Mrs. Wardour, "but it
does not make a lady of her."

"I am sure," returned Letty, bewildered, "on Sundays
you could not tell the difference between her and any other
young lady."

"Any other well-dressed young woman, my dear, you
should say. I believe shop-girls do call their companions
young ladies, but that can not justify the application of the
word. I am scarcely bound to speak of my cook as a lady be-
cause letters come addressed to her as Miss Tozer. If the
word ' lady ' should sink at last to common use, as in Italy
every woman is Donna, we must find some other word to ex-
press what icscd to be meant by it."

" Is Mrs. Cropper a lady, aunt ? " asked Letty, after a
pause, in which her brains, which were not half so muddled as
she thought them, had been busy feeling after firm ground in
the morass of social distinction thus opened under her.

"She is received as such," replied Mrs. Wardour, but with
doubled stiffness, through which ran a tone of injury.

"Would you receive her, aunt, if she called upon you ?"

"She has horses and servants, and everything a woman of
the world can desire ; but I should feel I was bowing the knee
to Mammon were I to ask her to my house. Yet such is the
respect paid to money in these degenerate days that many a


one will court the society of a person like that, who would
think me or your cousin Godfrey unworthy of notice, because
we haye no longer a tithe of the property the family once pos-

The lady forgot there is a Eimmon as well as a ^lammon.

*^God knows," she went on, *'how that woman's husband
made his money ! But that is a small matter nowadays, ex-
cept to old-fashioned people like myself. Xot Jiow but how
much, is all the question now," she concluded, flattering her-
self she had made a good point.

^^ Don't think me rude, please, aunt : I am really wishing
to understand — but, if Mrs. Cropper is not a hidy, how can
Mary Marston not be one ? Slie is as diilerent from Mrs. ('ri>j)-
por as one woman can be from another."

'* Because she has not the position in society," rcjdied Mrs.
Wardour, enyeloj)ing her nothing in flimsy reiteration and sclf-

Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldMary Marston. A novel → online text (page 2 of 40)