George MacDonald.

Mary Marston. A novel online

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persuaded her dying husband, ''for Tom's sake," to leave the
money in her power, should not now have carried her t}Tanny
further, and refused him money altogether. He would then
have been compelled to work harder, and to use what he made
in procuring the necessaries of life. There might have been
some hope for him then. As it was, his profession was the
mere grasping after the honor of a workman without the doing
of the work ; while the little he gained by it was, at the same
time, more than enough to foster the self-deception that he did
something in the world. With the money he gave her, which
was never more than a part of what his mother sent him,
Letty had much ado to make both ends meet ; and, while he
ran in debt to his tailor and bootmaker, she never had anything
new to wear. She did sometimes wish he would take her out
with him a little oftener of an evening ; for sometimes she felt


so lonely as to be quite unable to amuse herself : her resources
were not many in her position, and fewer still in herself ; but
she always reflected that he could not afford it, and it was lon^r
ere she began to have any doubt or uneasiness about him — long
before she began even to imagine it might be well if he spent
his evenings with her, or, at least, in other ways and other com-
pany than he did. When first such a thouglit presented itself,
she banished it as a disgrace to herself and an insult to him.
But it was no wonder if she found marriage dull, ])oor child I
— after such exi)ectations, too, from her Tom I

AVluit a pity it seems to our purblind eyes that so many girls
sliould be married before they are women ! Tlie woman comes at
lengtli, and finds she is forestalled — that the jirostrate and mu-
tilated Dagon of a girfs divinity is all that is k'ft her to do the
])est with she can ! But, thank God, in tlic faithfully accepted
and encountered responsibility, the woman must at length ])e-
come aware that slu' lias under her feet an ascending stair ])y
which to climb to the woman of the divine ideal.

There was at present, liowever, notliing to be called thought
in the mind of Letty. She had even lost much of what faculty
of thinking had been developed in her )jy the care of Cousin
Godfrey. That had speedily followed the decay of the aspira-
tion kindled in her by Marv. 11. r whole life now — as mueli of
it, that is, as was awake — was Tom, and only Tom. Her whole
(lay was but the continuous and little varied hope of his j)res-
ence. Most of the time she had a book in her hands, but ever
again book and hands would sink into her lap, and she would sit
staring before her at nothing. She was not unhap])y, she was
only not happy. At first it was a speechless delight to have
as many novels as she pleased, and she thought Tom the very
]irince of bounty in not merely permitting her to read them,
])ut bringing them to her, one after the other, sometimes two
at once, in spendtlirift jirofusion. The first thing that made
her aware she was not quite happy was the discovery that novels
were losing their charm, that they were not sufficient to make
her day i)ass, that they were only dessert, and she had no din-
ner. When it came to difificulty in going on with a new one
long enough to get interested in it, she sighed heavily, and be-


gan to think that perhaps life was rather a dreary thing — at least
considerably diluted with the unsatisfactory. How many of my
readers feel the same ! How few of them will recognize that
the state of things would indeed be desperate were it otherwise !
How many would go on and on being only butterflies, but for
life's dismay ! And who would choose to be a butterfly, even
if life and summer and the flowers were to last for ever !

'^I would," I fancy this and that reader saying.

"Then," I answer, "the only argument you are equal to,
is the fact that life nor summer nor the flowers do last for

"I suppose I am made a butterfly," do you say ? "seeing
I prefer to be one."

" Ah ! do you say so, indeed ? Then you begin to excuse
yourself, and what does that mean ? It means that you are no
butterfly, for a butterfly — no, nor an angel in heaven — could
never begin excusing the law of its existence. Butterfly-
brother, the hail will be upon you."

I may not then pity Letty that she had to discover that
novels taken alone serve one much as sweetmeats ad liUtum
do children, nor that she had to prove that life has in it that
spiritual quinine, precious because bitter, Avhosc part it is to
wake the higher hunger.

Tom talked of himself as on the staff of " The Firefly " — such
was the name of the newspaper whose editor sometimes paid
him — a vreekly of great pretense, which took upon itself the
mystery of things, as if it were God's spy. It was popular in
a way, chiefly in fashionable circles. As regarded the opinions
it promulgated, I never heard one, who understood the par-
ticular question at any time handled, say it was correct. Its
writers were mostly young men, and their passion was to say
clever things. If a friend's book came in their way, it was
treated worse or better than that of a stranger, but with im-
partial disregard for truth in either case ; yet many were the
authors who would go up endless back stairs to secure from
that paper a flattering criticism, and then be as proud of it
as if it had been the genuine and unsought utterance of a true
man's conviction ; and many were the men, immeasurably the


superiors of the reviewers, and in a general way acquainted
witli their character, who would accept as conclusive upon the
merits of a book the opinions they gave, nor ever question a
mode of quotation by which a book was made to show itself
whatever the reviewer chose to call it. A scandalous rumor
of any kind, especially from the region styled "high life,''
often false, and always incorrect, was the delight both of the
l)aper and of its readers ; and the interest it thus awoke,
united to the fear it thus caused, was mainly what procured
for such as were known to be employed upon it the entree of
houses where, if they had had a private existence only, their
faces would never have been seen. But, to do Tom justice, he
wrote notliing of this sort : he was neither ill-natured nor
experienced enough for that de})artment ; wluit he did write
was clever, shallow sketches of tliat same society into wlioso
charmed precincts lie was but so lately a comer that much was
to him interesting which had long ceiused to l)e observed by
eyes turned horny witli theghireof the world's footlights ; and,
while these sketches pleai>ed the young people especially, even
their jaded elders enjoyed the s])arkling reflex of what they
calk'd life, as seen ])y an outsider ; for they were thereby en-
abled to feel for a moment a slight interest in themselves
objectively, along with a galvanized sense of existence as the
producers of history. These sketches did more for the paper
than the editor was willing to know or acknowledge.

But *' The Firefly " produced also a little art on its own ac-
count — not always very original, but, at least, not a sucking of
life from tlu' labor of others, as is most of that i)arasitic thing
miscalled criticism. In this branch Tom had a share, in the
shape of verse. A ready faculty was liis, but one seldom
roused by immediate interest, and never by insight. It was
not things themselves, but the reflection of things in the art
of others, that moved him to produce. Coleridge, I think,
says of Dryden, that he took tire with the running of his own
wheels : so did Tom ; but it was the running of the wheels of
others that set his wheels running. lie was like some young
preachers who spend a part of the Saturday in reading this or
that author, in order to get ujj the mental condition favorable


to preaching on the Sunday. He was really fond of poetry ;
delighted in the study of its external elements for the sake of
his craft ; possessed not only a good but cultivated ear for
verse, which is a rare thing out of the craft ; had true pleasure
in a fine phrase, in a strong or brilliant word ; last and chief,
had a special faculty for imitation ; from which gifts, graces,
and acquirements, it came, that he could write almost in any
style that moved him — so far, at least, as to remind one who
knew it, of that style ; and that every now and then appeared
verses of his in ''The Firefly."

As often as this took place, Letty was in the third heaven
of delight. For was not Tom's poetry unquestionably superior
to anything else the age could produce ? was the poetry Cousin
Godfrey made her read once to be compared to Tom's ? and
was not Tom her own husband ? Happy woman she I

But, by the time at which my narrative has arrived, the first
mist of a coming fog had begun to gather faintly dim in her
heart. When Tom would come home happy, but talk perj)lex-
ingly ; when he would drop asleep in the middle of a story she
could make nothing of ; when he would Jburst out and go on
laughing, and refuse to explain the motive — how was she to
avoid the conclusion forced upon her, that he had taken too
much strong drink ? and, when she noted that this condition
reappeared at shorter and shorter intervals, might she not well
begin to be frightened, and to feel, what she dared not allow,
that she was being gradually left alone — that Tom had struck
into a diverging path, and they were slowing parting miles
from each other ?



Whei^ her landlady announced a visitor, Letty, not having
yet one friend in London, could not think who it should be.
When Mary entered, she sprang to her feet and stood staring :
what with being so much in the house, and seeing so few peo-


pie, the poor girl had, I think, grown a little stupid. But,
when the fact of Mary's presence cleared itself to her, she rushed
forward with a cry, fell into her arms, and burst out weeping.
Mary held her fast until she had a little come to herself, then,
pushing her gently away to tlie length of her arms, looked at

She was not a sight to make one happy. She was no longer
the plump, fresh girl that used to go singing about ; nor was
she merely thin and pale, she looked unhealthy. Things could
not be going well with her. Had her dress been only disor-
dered, that might have been accidental, but it looked neglected
— was not merely dingy, but plainly shabby, and, to Mary's
country eyes, appeared on the wrong side of clean. Presently,
as those eyes got accustomed to the miserable light, they spied
in the skirt of her gown a perfunctory darn, revealing but too
evidently that to Ixtty there no longer seemed occasion for
being particular. The sadness of it all sunk to Mary's heart :
Letty had not found marriage a grand alTair I

But Mary had not come into the world to be sad or to help
an(*ther to be sad. Sorrowful we may often have to be, but to
indulge in sorrow is either not to know or to deny God our
Saviour. True, her heart ached for Ix'tty ; and the ache im-
mediately laid itself as close to Lctty's ache as it could lie ; but
that was only the advance-guard of her army of salvation, the
light cavalry of sympathy : the next division was help ; and
behind that lay ])atience, and strength, and hope, and faith,
anil joy. This last, modern teachers, having failed to regard
it as a virtue, may well decline to regard as a duty ; but he is
a })oor C'lirisiian indeed in whom joy hius not at least a growing
share, and Mary was not a poor Christian — at least, for the time
she had been learning, and as Christians go in the present a?on
of their history. Her whole nature drew itself together, con-
fronting the destroyer, whatever he might be, in possession of
Letty. IIow to help she could not yet tell, but sympathy was
already at its work.

*' You are not looking j'our best, Letty," she said, clasping
her again in her arms.

With a little choking, Letty assured her she was r^uitc well.


only rather overcome with the pleasure of seeing her so unex-

*'How is Mr. Helmer ?" asked Mary.

*^ Quite well — and very busy," answered Letty — a little
hurriedly, Mary thought. " — But," she added, in a tone of
disappointment, "you always used to call him Tom !"

" Oh ! " answered Mary, with a smile, " one must be careful
how one takes liberties with married people. A certain myste-
rious change seems to pass over some of them ; they are not the
same somehow, and you have to make your acquaintance with
them all over again from the beginning."

"I shouldn't think such people's acquaintance worth mak-
ing over again," said Letty.

"How can you tell what it may be worth?" said Mary,
^' — they are so different from what they were ? Their friend-
ship may now be one that won't change so easily."

"Ah ! don't be hard on me, Mary. I have never ceased to
love you."

" I am so glad !" answered Mary. " People don't generally
take much to me — at least, not to come near me. But you can
he friends without having friends," she added, with a senten-
tiousness she had inherited.

"I don't quite understand you," said Letty, sadly; "but,
then, I never could quite, you know. Tom finds me very

These words strengthened Mary's suspicion, from the first a
probability, that all was not going well between the two ; but
she shrunk from any approach to confidences with one of a
married pair. To have such, she felt instinctively, would be a
breach of unity, except, indeed, that were already, and irrepara-
bly, broken. To encourage in any married friend the placing
of a confidence that excludes the other, is to encourage that
friend's self -degradation. But neither was this a fault to which
Letty could have been tempted ; she loved her Tom too much
for it : with all her feebleness, there was in Letty not a little
of childlike greatness, born of faith.

But, although Mary would make Letty tell nothing, she was
not the less anxious to discover, that she might, if possible,


help. She would observe : side-lights often reveal more than
direct illumination. It might be for Letty, and not for Mrs.
Rcdmain, she had been sent. He who made time in time would

^^Are you going to be long in London, Mary?'' asked

''Oh, a long time!" answered Mary, with a loving

Lctty's eyes fell, and she looked troubled.

'' I am so sorry, Mary," she said, " that I can not ask you to
come liere ! We have only these two rooms, and — and — you
see — Mrs. Ilelmer is not very liberal to Tom, ami — because
they — don't get on together very well — as I su})po.

Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldMary Marston. A novel → online text (page 21 of 40)