George MacDonald.

Mary Marston. A novel online

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plexing of the two.

^^I should like to see it on first," said Mary : she was in
doubt whether the color — bright, to suggest the brightest of
sunset-clouds — would suit Hesper's complexion. Then, again,
she had always associated the name Hesper with a later, a sol-
emnly loyely period of twilight, having little in common with
the color so voluminous in the background.

Hesper had a good deal of appreciative faculty, and knew
therefore when she liked and when she did not like a thing ; but
she had very little originative faculty — so little that, when any-
thing was wrong, she could do next to nothing to set it right.
There was small originality in taking a suggestion for her part
from her name, and less in the idea, following by concatena-
tion, of adopting for her costume sunset colors upon a flimsy
material, which might more than hint at clouds. She had
herself, with the assistance of Sepia and Folter, made choice of
the particular pink ; but, although it continued altogether de-
lightful in the eyes of her maid, it had, upon nearer and pro-
longed acquaintance, become doubtful in hers ; and she now
waited, with no little anxiety, the judgment of Mary, who sat
silently thinking.

''Have you nothing to say ?" she asked, at length, impa-

*' Please, ma'am," replied Mary, " I must think, if I am to be
of any use. I am doing my best, but you must let me be quiet."

Half annoyed, half pleased, Hesper was silent, and Mary
went on thinking. All was still, save for the slight noises Fol-
ter made, as, like a machine, she went on heartlessly brushing
her mistress's hair, which kept emitting little crackles, as of
dissatisfaction with her handling. Mary would now take a
good gaze at the lovely creature, now abstract herself from the
visible, and try to call up the vision of her as the real Hesper,
not a Hesper dressed up — a process which had in it hope for
the lady, but not much for the dress upon the bed.


At last Folter had done her part,

'*I suppose you must see it on I " Siiid Ilcsper, and she
rose up.

Folter jerked lierself to the bed, took the dress, arranged it
on her arms, got up on a chair, dropped it over lier mistress's
liead, got down, and, having pulled it this way and that for a
while, fastened it here, undone it there, and fastened it again,
several times, exclaimed, in a tone whose conlidence was meant
to forestall the critical impertinence she dreaded :

^' There, ma'am ! If you don't look tlie loveliest woman in
llic room, I sliall never trust my eyes again."

Mary lield her peace, for the commonplace style of the dress
but added to her dissatisfaction with the color. It was all
pulled and bubbled and blown about, here and there and every-
where, so that the form of the wonuin was lost in the frolic
shapelessness of the cloud. The whole, if whole it could be
called, was a miserable attempt at combining fancy and fashion,
and, in result, an ugly nothing.

^*I see you don't like it I" said Ilesper, with a mingling of
displeasure and dismay. ** I wish you had come a few davs
sooner ! It is much too late to do anything now. 1 might
just as well have gone without showing it to vou I — Here, I-'ol-
ter ! "

With a look almost of disgust, she began to i)ull otT tlie
dress, in which, a few hours later, she would yet make the at-
tempt to enchant an assembly.

''0 ma'am I" cried Mary, ^' I wish you had told me yes-
terday. There would have been time then. — And I don't
know," she added, seeing disgust change to mortiliculion on
Ilesper's countenance, *'but something might be done yet.*'

*'0h, indeed!" dropped from Folter's lips with an inde-
scribable expression.

'- AVhat can be done ?" said Hesper, angrily. '* There can
be no time for anything."

''If only we had the stuff!" said Mary. ''That shade
doesn't suit your com})lexion. It ought to be much, much
darker — in fact, a different color altogether."

Folter was furious, but restrained herself sufliciently to pre-


serve some calmness of tone, although her face turned almost
blue with the effort, as she said :

** Miss Marston is not long from the country, ma'am, and
don't know what's suitable to a London drawing-room."

Her mistress was too dejected to snub her impertinence.

^'What color were you thinking of. Miss Marston ?" Hes-
per asked, with a stillness that would have been more in place
had Mary volunteered the opinion she had been asked to give.
She was out of temper with Mary from feeling certain she was
right, and believing there was no remedy.

^'1 could not describe it," answered Mary. *^ And, indeed,
the color I have in my mind may not be to be had. I have
seen it somewhere, but, whether in a stuff or only in nature, I
can not at this moment be certain."

" Where's the good of talking like that — excuse me, ma'am
— it's more than I can bear — when the ball comes off in a few
hours ? " cried Folter, ending with eyes of murder on Mary.

"If you would allow me, ma'am," said Mary, **I should
like much to try whether I could not find something that would
suit you and your idea too. However well you might look in
that, you would owe it no thanks. The worst is, I know no-
thing of the London shops."

"I should think not !" remarked Folter, with emphasis.

" I would send you in the brougham, if I thought it was
of any use," said Hesper. "Folter could take you to the
proper places."

"Folter would be of no use to me," said Mary. " If your
coachman knows the best shops, that will be enough."

"But there's no time to make up anything," objected Hes-
per, despondingly, not the less with a glimmer of hope in her

" Not like that," answered Mary ; " but there is much there
as unnecessary as it is ugly. If Folter is good at her needle — "

"I won't take up a single stitch. It would be mere waste
of labor," cried Folter.

"Then, please, ma'am," said Mary, "let Folter have that
dress ready, and, if I don't succeed, you have something to wear."

"I hate it. I won't go if you don't find me another."


'*Some people may like it, though I don't,'' said Mary.

''Xot a doubt of that I" said P'olter.

*^Ring tlie bell," said her mistress.

The woman obeyed, and the moment afterward repented she
had not given warning on the spot, instead. The brougham was
ordered immediately, and in a few minutes Mary was standing
at a counter in a large shop, looking at various stuffs, of which
the young man waiting on her soon perceived she knew the
qualities and capabilities better than he.

She had set her heart on carrying out Ilesper's idea, but in
better fashion ; and after great pains taken, and no little trou-
ble given, left the shop well satisfied with her success. And
now for the greater difliculty I

She drove straight to l^'tty's lodging, and, there dismissing
the brougham, presented lierself, Avith a great i)arcel in lier
arms, for tlic second time that day, at the door of her room, as
unexpected as the first, and even more to the joy of her soli-
tary friend.

She knew that Letty wa.s good at her needle. And Letty
was, indeed, even now, by. fitf?, fond of using it ; and on sev-
eral occasions, wlien her supj>ly of novels had for a day run
short, had asked a dressmaker who lived above to let her help
her for an hour or two : before Mary had finished her story, she
was untying the parcel, and jireparing to receive her instruc-
tions. Nor had they been at work many minutes, when Letty
bethought her of calling in the help of the said dressmaker ;
so that presently tliere were three of them busy as bees — one
with genius, one with experience, and all with faculty. The
notions of the first were quickly taken up by the other two,
and, the design of the dress being simplicity itself, Mary got all
done she wanted in shorter time than she had thought possible.
The landlady sent for a cab, and ^Fary was home with the im-
probability in more than time for Mrs. Kedmain's toilet. It
was with some triumph, tempered with some trepidation, that
she carried it to her room.

There Folter was in the act of persuading her mistress of
the necessity of beginning to dress : Miss Marston, she said,
knew nothing of what she had undertaken ; and, even if she


arrived in time, it would be with something too ridiculous for
any lady to appear in — when Mary entered, and was recei^'ed
with a cry of delight from Hesper ; in proportion to whose in-
creasing disgust for the pink robe, was her pleasure when she
caught sight of Mary's colors, as she undid the parcel : when
she lifted the dress on her arm for a first effect, she was enrap-
tured with it — aerial in texture, of the hue of a smoky rose,
deep, and cloudy with overlying folds, yet diaphanous, a dark-
ness dilute with red.

Silent as a torture-maiden, and as grim, Folter approached
to try the filmy thing, scornfully confident that the first sight
of it on would prove it unwearable. But Mary judged her
scarcely in a mood to be trusted with anything • so ethereal ;
and begged therefore that, as the dress had, of necessity, been
in many places little more than run together, and she knew
its weak points, she might, for that evening, be allowed the
privilege of dressing Mrs. Redmain. Hesper gladly consented ;
Folter left the room ; Mary, now at her ease, took her place ;
and presently, more to Hesper's pleasure than Mary's surprise,
for she had made and fixed in her inind the results of minute
observation before she went, it was found that the dress fitted
quite sufficiently well, and, having confined it round the waist
with a cincture of thin pale gold, she advanced to her chief
anxiety — the head-dress.

For this she had chosen such a doubtful green as the sky
appears through yellowish smoke — a sad, lovely color — the fair
past clouded with the present — youth not forgotten, but filmed
with age. They were all colors of the evening, as it strives to
keep its hold of the heavens, with the night pressing upon it
from behind. In front, above the lunar forehead, among the
coronal masses, darkly fair, she fixed a diamond star, and over
it wound the smoky green like a turbaned vapor, wind-ruffled,
through which the diamonds gleamed faintly by fits. Not
once would she, while at her work, allow Hesper to look, and
the self-willed lady had been submissive in her hands as a
child of the chosen ; but the moment she had succeeded — for
her expectations were more than realized — she led her to the


Hesper gazed for an instant, then, turning, threw lier arms
about Mary, and kissed her.

*' I don't believe you're a human creature at all I " she cried.
*' You are a fairy godmother, come to look after your poor
Cinderella, the sport of stupid lady's-maids and dressmakers ! "

The door opened, and Folter entered.

*^ If you please, ma'am, I wish to leave this clay moiitli,''
she said, quietly.

" Then," answered her mistress, with equal calmness,
'^ oblige me by going at once to Mrs. Perkin, and telling her
that I desire her to pay you a month's wages, and let you leave
the house to-morrow morning. — You won't mind helping me
to dress till I get another maid — will you, Mary ?" she added ;
and Folter left the room, chagrined at her inability to cause

'' I do not see why you siiould have anollur maid so long
as I am with you, ma'am," said Mary. ** It should not need
many days* apprenticeship to make one woman aljle to dress

"Not when slic is like you, Mary," said Ilesper. " It is
well the wretch has done my hair for tonight, though I That
will be the main dilliculty.''

" It will not be a great one," said Mary, "if you will alhnv
me to undo it when you come home.''

" I begin almost to believe in a special providence,'' said
Ilesper. '' "What a blessed thing for me that you came to drive
away that woman ! She has been getting worse and worse."

*' If I have driven her away," answered Mary, '^ I am bound
to supply her place."

As they talked, she was giving her linal touches of arrange-
ment to the head-dress — with which she found it least easy to
satisfy herself. It swept round from behind in a misty cloak,
the two colors mingling with and gently obscuring each other ;
while, between them, the palest memory of light, in the golden
cincture, helped to bring out the somber richness, the delicate
darkness of the whole.

Searching now again Hesper's jewel-case, Mary found a fine
bracelet of the true, the Oriental topaz, the old chrysolite — of


that clear yellow of the sunset-sky that looks like the 'scaped
spirit of miser-smothered gold : this she clasped upon one arm ;
and when she had fastened a pair of some ancient Mortimer's
garnet buckles in her shoes, which she had insisted should be
black, and taken off all the rings that Hesper had just put on,
except a certain glorious sapphire, she led her again to the mir-
ror ; and, if there Hesper was far more pleased with herself
than was reasonable or lovely, my reader needs not tlierefore
fear a sermon from the text, '* Beauty is only skin-deep," for
that text is out of the devil's Bible. No Baal or Astarte is the
maker of beautj, but the same who made the seven stars and
Orion, and His works are past finding out. If only the woman
herself and her worshipers knew how deep it is ! But the
woman's share in her own beauty may be infinitely less than
skin-deep ; and there is but one greater fool than the man who
worships that beauty — the woman who prides herself uj)on it,
as if she were the fashioner and not the thing fashioned.

But poor Hesper had much excuse, though no justification.
She had had many of the disadvantages and scarce one of the
benefits of poverty. She had heard constantly from childhood
the most worldly and greedy talk, the commonest expression
of abject dependence on the favors of Mammon, and thus had
from the first been in preparation for marrying money. She
had been taught no other way of doing her part to procure tlie
things of which the Father knows we have need. She had
never earned a dinner ; had never done or thought of doing a
day's work — of offering the world anything for the sake of
which the world might offer her a shilling to do it again ; she
had never dreamed of being of any use, even to herself ; she
had learned to long for money, but had never been hungry,
never been cold : she had sometimes felt shabby. Out of it all
she had brought bnt the knowledge that this matter of beauty,
with which, by some blessed chance, she was endowed, was
worth much precious money in the world's market — worth all
the dresses she could ever desire, worth jewels and horses and
servants, adoration and adulation — everything, in fact, the
world calls fine, and the devil offers to those who, unscared
by his inherent ugliness, will fall down and worship him.




The Evening Star found herself a success — that is, much
followed by the men and much complimented by the women.
Her triumph, however, did not culminate until the next
appearance of ''The Eirefly," containing u song "To the
Evening Star," which everybody knew to stand for Mrs. Red-
main. The chaos of the uninitiated, indeed, exoteric and
despicable, remained in ignorance, nor dreamed that the
verses meant anybody of note ; to them they seemed but I lie
calf-sigh of some young writer so deep in his first devotion
that he jum])led up liis lady-love, Hesper, and Ai)hrodite, in
the same poetic bundle — of which he left the string-ends
hanging a little loose, while, upon the whole, it remained a not
altogether unsightly bit of prentice-work. Tom Imd not been
at the party, but had gathered lire enough from what he heard
of Hesper's appearance there to write the verses. Here they
are, as nearly as I can recall them. They are in themselves
not worth writing out for the ])rinters, but, in their surround-
ings, thoy serve to show Tom, and are the last with which I
shall trouble the readers of this narrative.


" From the burit-d siinliglit sprinping,
Throiigli tlamo-darkcned, rosy loud,
Native sea-lines with thcc bringing,
In the sky thou reignest proud!

" TVho is like thee, lordly lady,
Star-choragus of the night!
Color worships, fainting fady,
Night grows darker with delight!

" Dusky-radiant, far, and somber,
In tlie coolness of thy state,
From my eyelids chasing slumber,
Thou dost smile upon my fate ;


" Calmly sLinest ; not a whisper

Of my songs can reach thine ear ;
What is it to thee, O Hesper,

That a heart should long or fear? "

Tom did not care to show Letty this poem — ^not that there
was anything more in his mind than an artistic admiration of
Hesper, and a desire to make himself agreeable in her eyes ;
but, when Letty, having read it, betrayed no shadow of an-
noyance with its folly, he wlis a little relieved. The fact was,
the simple creature took it as a pardon to herself.

'^I am glad you have forgiven me, Tom," she said.

''What do you mean ?" asked Tom.

" For working for Mrs. Redmain vv^itli your hands," she
said, and, breaking into a little laugh, caught his cheeks be-
tween those same hands, and reaching up gave him a kiss that
made him ashamed of himself — a little, that is, and for the
moment, that is : Tom was used to being this or that a little
for the moment.

For this same dress, which Tom had thus glorified in song,
had been the cause of bitter tears to Letty. He came home
too late the day of Mary's visit, but the next morning she told
him all about both the first and the second surprise she had
had — not, however, with much success in interesting the lordly

''And then," she went on, "what do you think we were
doing all the afternoon, Tom ? "

"How should I know ?" said Tom, indifferently.

"We were working hard at a dress — a dress for a fancy-

"A fancy-ball, Letty? What do you mean ? You going
to a fancy-ball ! "

"Me!" cried Letty, with merry laugh; "no, not quite
me. Who do you think it was for ? "

" How should I know ? " said Tom again, but not quite so
indifferently ; he was prepared to be annoyed.

"For Mrs. Eedmain !" said Letty, triumphantly, clapping
her hands with delight at what she thought the fun of the
thing, for was not Mrs. Redmain Tom's friend ? — then stooping


a little — it was an unconscious, pretty trick she had — and hold-
ing them out, palm pressed to palm, with the fingers toward
his face.

"Letty," said Tom, frowning — and the frown deepened
and deepened ; for had he not from the first, if in nothinc:
else, taken trouble to instruct her in what became the wife of
Thomas Ilelmor, Esq. ? — '* Letty, this won't do I "

Letty was frightened, but tried to think he was only ]>re-
tending to be displeased.

*^ Ah ! don't frighten me, Tom," she said, with her merry
hands now changed to pleading ones, though their position and
attitude remained the same.

But he caught them by tlie wrist>^ in both of his, and lu'Id
them tight.

** Letty," he said once more, and with increased severity,
*' this won't do. I tell you, it won't do.''

"What won't do, Tom?" she returnc'd, growing wliiti'.
" 'I'here's no harm done."

" Yes, there is," said Tom, with solemnity : " there /.v harm
done, when my wife goes and does like tliat. What would
people say of mc, if they were to come to know — (iod forbid
they should ! — that your husband was talking all the evening
to ladies at whose dresses his wife had been working all the
afternoon ! — You don't know what you are doing, I^etty.
What do you suppose tlie ladies would thiiik if they were to
hear of it ?"

Poor, foolish Tom, ignorant in his folly, ilid not knuw liow
little those grand ladies would liave cared if his wife had been
a char-woman : the eyes of such are not discerning of fine social
distinctions in women who are not of their set, neither are the
family relations of the bohcmians they invite of the smallest
consequence to them.

** But, Tom," pleaded his wife, " such a grand lady as that I
one you go and read your poetry to ! What harm can there be
in vour poor little wife helping to make a dress for a lady like

^* I tell you, Letty, I don't choose my wife to do such a thing
for the greatest lady in the land ! Good Heavens ! if it ivere to


come to the ears of the staff ! It would be the ruin of me ! I
should neyer hold up my head again ! "

By this time Letty's head was hanging low, like a flower
half broken from its stem, and two big tears were slowly rolling
down her cheeks. But there was a gleam of satisfaction in her
heart notwithstanding. Tom thought so much of his little wife
that he would not have her work for the greatest lady in the
land ! She did not see that it was not pride in her, but pride
in himself, that made him indignant at the idea. It was not
^'my w^/e," but ^' my wife " with Tom. She looked again up
timidly in his face, and said, her Yoice trembling, and her
cheeks wet, for she could not wipe away the tears, because Tom
still held her hands as one might those of a naughty child :

''^But, Tom ! I don't exactly see how you can make so
much of it, when you don't think me — when you know I am
not fit to go among such people."

To this Tom had no reply at hand : he was not yet far
enough down the devil's turnpike to be able to tell his wife
that he had spoken the truth — that he did not think her fit for
such company ; that he would be ashamed of her in it ; that she
had no style ; that, instead of carrying herself as if she knew
herself somebody — as good as anybody there, indeed, being the
wife of Tom Helmer — she had the meek look of one who knew
herself nobody, and did not know her husband to be anybody.
He did not think how little he had done to give the unassum-
ing creature that quiet confidence which a woman ought to
gather from the assurance of her husband's satisfaction in her,
and the consciousness of being, in dress and everything else,
pleasing in his eyes, therefore of occupying the only place in
the world she desires to have. But he did think that Letty's
next question might naturally be, ^^ Why do you not take me
with you ? " No doubt he could have answered, no one had
ever asked her ; but then she might rejoin, had he ever put it
in any one's way to ask her ? It might even occur to her to in-
quire whether he had told Mrs. Eedmain that he had a wnfe !
and he had heart enough left to imagine it might mortally hurt
her to find he lived a life so utterly apart from hers — that she
had so little of the relations though all the rights of wifehood.

SEPIA. 257

It was no wonder, therefore, if he was more than willing to
change the subject. He let the poor, imprisoned hands drop so
abruptly that, in their a])andonment, they fell straight from
her shoulders to her sides.

''Well, well, child!" he said; "put on your bonnet, and
we shall be in time for the first piece at the Lyceum."

Letty flew, and was ready in live minutes. She could dress
tlic more quickly that she was delayed by little doubt as to
what she had better wear : she had scarcely a choice. Tom,
looking after his own comforts, left her to look after lier neces-
sities ; and slie, having a conscience, and not much spirit, went
even shabbier than she vet needed.



As naturally as if she liad been burn to that very duty and
no oilier, ^lary slid into the otlice of lady's-maid to Mrs. Ked-
main, feeling in it, ahhough fur reasons very dilTerent, no more
degradation than her mistress saw in it. if II esper was occa-
sionally a little rude to lier, Mary was not one to accept a rude-
ness — that is, to wraj) it up in resentment, and put it away
safe in the pocket of memory. She could not help feeling
things of the kind — sometimes with indignation and anger ;
but she made haste to send them from her, and shut the doors
against them. She knew herself a far more blessed creature
than llesper, and felt the obligation, from the Master himself,
of so enduring as to keep every channel of service open between
llesper and her. To llesper, the change from the vulgar ser-
vice of Folter to the ministration of Mary was like passing
from a shallow purgatory to a gentle paradise. Mary's service
was full of live and near presence, as that of dew or summer
wind ; Fulter handled her as if she were dressing a dull, Mary
as if she were dressing a baby ; her hands were deft as an
angel's, her feet as noiseless as swift. And to have Mary near

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