George MacDonald.

Mary Marston. A novel online

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was not only to have a ministering spirit at hand, but to have
a good atmosphere all around — an air, a heaven, out of which
good things must momently come. Few could be closely asso-
ciated with her and not become aware at least of the capacity
of being better, if not of the desire to be better.

In the matter of immediate result, it was a transition from
decoration to dress. If in any sense Hesper was well dressed
before, she was in every sense well dressed now — dressed so,
that is, as to reveal the nature, the analogies, and the associa-
tions of her beauty : no manner of dressing can make a woman
look more beautiful than she is, though many a mode may
make her look less so.

There was one in the house, hov>^ever, who was not pleased
at the change from Folter to Mary : Sepia found herself
in consequence less necessary to Hesper. Hitherto Hesper
had never been satisfied without Sepia's opinion and final ap-
proval in that weightiest of affairs, the matter of dress ; but
she found in Mary such a faculty as rendered appeal to Sepia
unnecessary ; for she not only satisfied her idea of herself, and
how she would choose to look, but showed her taste as much
surer than Sepia's as Sepia's was readier than Hesper's own.
Sepia was equal to the dressing of herself — she never blundered
there ; but there was little dependence to be placed upon her
in dressing another. She cared for herself, not for another ;
and to dress another, love is needful — love, the only true artist
— love, the only opener of eyes. She cared nothing to minis-
ter to the comfort or beautification of her cousin, and her dis-
pleasure did not arise from the jealousy that is born of affec-
tion. So far as Hesper's self was concerned. Sepia did not care
a straw whether she was well or ill dressed ; but, if the link be-
tween them of dress was severed, what other so strong would
be left ? And to find herself in any way a less object in Hes-
per's eyes, would be to find herself on the inclined plane of
loss, and probable ruin.

Another, though a smaller, point was, that hitherto she had
generally been able so to dress Hesper as to make of her more
or less a foil to herself. My reader may remember that there
was between Hesper and Sepia, if not a resemblance, yet ^ re-

SEPIA. 259

lation of appearance, like, vagiielv, that between the twilight
and the night ; seen in certain positions and circumstances, the
one would recall the other ; and it was therefore a matter of no
small consequence to Sepia that the relation of her dress to
Hesper's should be such as to give herself any advantage to be
derived in it from the relation of their looks. This was far
more difficult, of course, when she had no longer a voice in the
matter of Hesper's dress, and when the loving skill of the nev/
maid presented her rival to her individual best. Mary would
have been glad to help her as well, but Sepia drew back as from
a hostile nature, and tliey made no a})proximation. This was
more loss to Sepia than she knew, for Mary would have assist-
ed her in doing the best when she liad no money, a condition
which often made it the more trying that she had now so little
inlluencc over her cousin's adornment. To dress was a far more
difficult, though not more important, affair with Sepia than
with ilesper, for she had nolFiing of her own, and from her
cousin no fixed allowance. Any arrangement of the kind had
been impossible at Durnmelling, where there was no money ;
and here, where it would have been easy enougli, she judged it
better to give no liint in its direction, although plainly it had
never suggested itself to Ilesper. There was nothing of the
money-mean in her, any more than in her husband. They were
of course, as became people of fashion, regular and unwearied
attendants of the church of Mammon, ordering all their judg-
ments and ways in accordance with the precepts there deliv-
ered ; but they were none of Mammon's priests or i)ew-openers,
money-grubs, or accumulators. They gave liberally where they
gave, and scraped no inferior to spend either on themselves or
their charities. They had plenty, it is true ; but so have many
who withhold more than is meet, and take the ewe-lamb to add
to their Hock. For one thing, they had no time for that sort
of wickedness, and took no interest in it. So Ilesper, although
it hacl not come into her mind to give her the ease of a stated
allowance, behaved generously to Sepia — when she thought of
it ; but she did not love her enough to be love-watchful, and
seldom thought how her money must be going, or questioned
whetker she might not at the moment be in want of more.


There are many who will giye freely, who do not care to un-
derstand need and anticipate want. Hence at times Sepia's
purse would be long empty before the giving-thought would
wake in the mind of Hesper. When it woke, it was gracious
and free.

Had Sepia yentured to run up bills with the tradespeople,
Hesper would have taken it as a thing of course, and settled
them with her own. But Sepia had a certain politic pride in
spending only what was given her ; also she saw or thought she
saw serious reason for avoiding all appearances of taking liber-
ties ; from the first of Mr. Kedmain's visits to Durnmelling,
she had been aware, with an instinct keen in respect of its ob-
jects, though blind as to its own nature, that he did not like
her, and soon satisfied herself that any overt attempt to please
him would but ripen his dislike to repugnance ; and her dread
was that he might make it a condition with Mr. Mortimer that
Hesper's intimacy with her should cease ; whereas, if once they
were married, the husband's disfavor would, she believed, only
strengthen the wife's predilection. Having so far gained her
end, it remained, however, almost as desirable as before that
she should do nothing to fix or increase his dislike — nay, that,
if within the possible, she should become pleasing to him. Did
not even hate turn sometimes to its mighty opposite? But
she understood so little of the man with whom she had to deal
that her calculations were ill-founded.

She was right in believing that Mr. Eedmain disliked her,
but she was wrong in imagining that he had therefore any ob-
jection to her being for the present in the house. He certainly
did not relish the idea of her continuing to be his wife's insep-
arable companion, but there would be time enough to get rid
of her after he had found her out. For she had not long been
one of his famili/, before he knew, with insight unerring, that
she had to be found out, and was therefore an interesting sub-
ject for the exercise of his faculty of moral analysis. H6 was
certain her history was composed mainly of secrets. As yet,
however, he had discovered nothing.

I must just remind my reader of the intellectual passion I
have already mentioned as characterizing Mr. Redmain's men-

SEPIA. 261

tal constitution. His faults and vices were by no means pecu-
liar ; but the bent to which I refer, certainly no virtue, and
springing originally from predominant evil, was in no small de-
gree peculiar, especially in the degree to which, derived as it was
from his father, he had in his own being developed it. Most
men, he judged with himself, were such fools as well as rogues,
that there was not the least occasion to ask what they were
after : they did but turn themselves inside out before you !
But, on the other hand, there were not a few who took pains,
more or less successful, to conceal their game of life ; and such
it was the delight of his being to lay bare to his own eyes — not
to those of other people ; that, he said, would be to spoil his
game ! Men were his library, he said — his history, his novels,
his sermons, his philosophy, his poetry, his whole literature —
and he did not like to have his books thumbed by other people.
Human nature, in its countless aspects, was all about him, he
said, every mask crying to him to take it olT. Unhapi)ilv, it
was but the morbid anatomy of hu-man nature he cared to
study. For all his abuse of it, he did not yet recognize it as
morbid, but took it as normal, and the best to be had. No
doubt, he therein judged and condemned himself, but that he
never thought of — nor, i)erceived, would it have been a point
of any consequence to him.

From tlie first, he saw through ^fr. Mortimer, and all be-
longing to him, except Miss Yolland : she soon began to puz-
zle — and, so far, to please him, though, as I have said, he did
not like her. Had he been a younger man, she would have
captivated him ; as it was, she would have repelled him entire-
ly, but that she offered him a good subject. He said to him-
self that she was a bad lot, but what sort of a bad lot was not
so clear as to make her devoid of interest to him ; he must dis-
cover how she played her life-game ; she had a history, and he
would fain know it. As I have said, however, so far it had
come to nothing, for, upon the surface. Sepia showed herself
merely like any other worldly girl who knows "on which side
her bread is buttered."

The moment he had found, or believed he had found, what
there was to know about her, he was sure to hate her heartily.


For some time after his marriage, he appeared at his wife's
parties oftener than he otherwise would have done, just for
the sake of having an eye upon Sejoia ; but had seen nothing,
nor the shadow of anything — until one night, by the merest
chance, happening to enter his wife's drawing-room, he caught
a peculiar glance between Sepia and a young nian — not very
young — who had Just entered, and whom he had not seen

To not a few it seemed strange that, with her unquestioned
powers of fascination, she had not yet married ; but London is
not the only place in which poverty is as repellent as beauty is
attractive. At the same time it must be confessed there was
something about her which made not a few men shy of her.
Some found that, if her eyes drew them within a certain dis-
tance, there they began to repel them, they could not tell why.
Others felt strangely uncomfortable in her presence from the
first. Not only much that a person has done, but much of
what a person is capable of, is, I suspect, written on the bodily
presence ; and, although no human eye is capable of reading
more than here and there a scattered hint of the twilight of
history, which is the aurora of prophecy, the soul may yet
shudder with an instinctive foreboding it can not explain, and
feel the presence, without recognizing the nature, of the hostile.

Sepia's eyes were her great power. She knew the laws of
mortar-practice in that kind as well as any officer of engineers
those of projectiles. There was something about her engines
which it were vain to attempt to describe. Their lightest
glance was a thing not to be trifled with, and their gaze a thing
hardly to be withstood. Sustained and without hurt defied, it
could hardly be by man of Avoman born. They were large, but
no fool would be taken with mere size. They were as dark as
ever eyes of woman, but our older poets delighted in eyes as
gray as glass : certainly not in their darkness lay their peculiar
witchery. They were grandly proportioned, neither almond-
shaped nor round, neither prominent nor deep-set ; but even
shape by itself is not much. If I go on to say they were lumi-
nous, plainly there the danger begins. Sepia's eyes, I confess,
wore not lords of the deepest light — for she was not true ; but

SEPIA. ii63

neither was theirs a surface light, generated of merely physical
causes : through them, concentrating her will upon their ut-
terance she could estahlish a p^vohical contact with ahnosf any
man she chose. -Their power was an evil, sellisli shadow of
original, universal love. By them she could produce at once,
in tlic man on whom she turned their play, a sense as it were
of some primordial, fatal affinity between her and him — of an
aboriginal understanding, the rare possession of but a few of
the pairs made male and female. Into those eyes she would
call up her soul, and there make it sit, flashing light, in gleams
and sparkles, shoots and coruscations — not from great, black
j)upils alone — to whose size there were wlio said the suicidal
belladonna lent its aid — but from great, dark irids as well —
nay, from eyeballs, eyelashes, and eyelids, as from spiritual
catapult or culverin, would she dart the lightnii^s t)f her
])resent soul, invading with influence as irresistible as subtile
the soul of the man she chose to assail, who, thenceforward,
for u season, if he were such as she took him for, scarce had
choice but bu her slave. She seldom exerted their full force,
however, without some further motive than mere desire to
ca])tivate. There are women who lly their faleons at any game,
little birds and all ; but Sepia did not so waste herself : lier
(juarry must be worth her hunt : she must either love iiiin or
need him. Love! did I say ? Alas I if ever holy word was put
to unholy use, love is that word I When Diana goes to hell,
her name changes to Hecate, but love among the devils is called
love still I

In more than one other country, whatever might be the
cause. Sepia had found the men less shy of her tlian here ; and
she had almost begun to think her style was not generally
})leasing to English eyes. Whether this had anything to do
with the fact that now m London she began to amuse herself
with Tom Ilelmer, I can not say with certainty ; but almost if
not quite the lirst time they met, that morning, namely, when
first he called, and they sat in the bay-window of the drawing-
room in CJlammis Square, she brought her eyes to play upon
him ; and, although he addressed ^*Thc Firefly" poem to Hes-
per in the hope of pleasing her, it was for the sake of Sepia


chiefly that he desired the door of her house to he an open one
to him. Whether at tlifit time she knew he was a married man,
it is hardly necessary to inquire^ set^'ng it would have made no
difference whatever to one like her, whose dtJtiign was only to
amuse herself with the youth, and possibly to make of him a
screen. She went so far, however, as to allow him, when there
was opportunity, to draw her into quiet corners, and even to
linger when the other guests were gone, and he had had his full
share of champagne. Once, indeed, they remained together so
long in the little conservatory, lighted only by an alabaster
lamp, pale as the moon in the dawning, that she had to unbolt
the door to let him out. This did not take place without com-
ing to the knowledge of both Mr. and Mrs. Redmain ; but the
former was only afraid there was nothing in it, and was far
from any«^ish to control her;, and Sepia herself was the in-
formant of the latter. To her she would make game of her
foolish admirer, telling how, on this and that occasion, it was
all she could do to get rid of him.



Hayikg now gained a partial insight into Letty's new po-
sition, Mary pondered what she could do to make life more of
life to her. Not many knew better than she that the only true
way to help a human heart is to lift it up ; but she knew also
that every kind of loving aid tends more or less to that uplift-
ing ; and that, if we can not do the great thing, we must be
ready to do the small : if we do not help in little things, how
shall we be judged fit to help in greater ? We must help where
we can, that we may help where we can not. The first and the
only thing she could for a time think of, was, to secure for
Letty, if possible, a share in her husband's pleasures.

Quietly, yet swiftly, a certain peaceful familiarity had estab-

HONOR. 265

li.-lied itself between Ilesper and Mary, to whicli tlie perfect
balance of the latter and her sense of the only true foundation
of her position contributed far more tlian the undelined par-
tiality of the former. The possibility of such a conversation
as I am now going to set down was one of the results.

^'Do you like Mr. Hehner, ma'am ? ' ' asked Mary one morn-
ing, as she was brushing her hair.

" Very well. How do you know anyiliing of him !•'"

*' Not many people within ten miles of Testbridge do not
know Mr. Ilelmer," answered Mary.

"Yes, yes, I remember," said Hesper. "He used to ride
about on a long-legged horse, and talked to anybody that would
listen to him. But there wa.s always something pleasing about
him, and he is much improved. Do you know, he is considered
really veiy clever ?"

"I am not surprised,'' rejoined Mary. *' He used to be
rather foolish, and that is a sign of ck'vi'rni'ss — at k-asl. many
clever people arc foolish, I think."

'' You can't have had much ojijort unity for making the
()l)servation, Mary ! ''

"Clever people think as much of themselves in the country
as they do in London, and that is what makes them foolish,'*
returned Mary. " But I used to think Mr. Ilclmer had very
good points, and was worlli dt^ing something for — if one only
knew what."

•• He does not seem to want anything done for him," said

"I know one thing yuu could do for him, and it would be
no trouble," said Mary.

"I will do anything for anybody that is no trouble," an-
swered Ht'sper. " I should like to know something that is no

" It is only, the next time you ask him, to ask his wife,"
said Mary.

" He is married, then ?" returned Hesper with indifference.
"Is the woman presentable? Some shopkeeper's daughter, I
suppose ! "

Mary laughed.



" You don't imagine the son of a lawyer would be likely to
marry a shopkeeper's daughter ! " she said.

** "Why not ?" returned Hesper, with a look of non-intelli-

" Because a professional man is so far above a tradesman."

*'0h !" said Hesi^er. '^ — But he should have told me if
he wanted to bring his wife with him. I don't care who she
is, so long as she dresses decently and holds her tongue. What
are you laughing at, Mary ? "

Hesper called it laughing, but Mary was only smiling.

^^ I can't help being amused," answered Mary, 'Hhat you
sliould think it such an out-of-the-way thing to be a shopkeep-
er's daughter, and here am I all the time, feeling quite com-
fortable, and proud of the shopkeeper whose daughter I am."

*^ Oh ! I beg your pardon," exclaimed Ilesper, growing hot
for, I almost believe, the first time in her life, and therein, I
fear, showing a drop of bad blood from somewhere, probably
her father's side of the creation ; for not even the sense of hav-
ing hurt the feelings of an inferior can make the thorough-
bred woman of the v/orld aware of the least discomfort ; and
here was Hesper, not only feeling like a woman of God's mak-
ing, but actually showing it ! — "How cruel of me !" she went
on. "But, you see, I never think of you — -when I am talking
to you — as — as one of that class ! "

Mary laughed outright this time : she was amused, and
thought it better to show it, for that would show also she was
not hurt. Hesper, however, put it down to insensibility.

"Surely, dear Mrs. Eedmain," said Mary, "you can not
think the class to which I belong in itself so objectionable
that it is rude to refer to it in my hearing ! "

"I am very sorry," repeated Hesper, but in a tone of some
offense : it was one thing to confess a fault ; another to be re-
garded as actually guilty of the fault. "Nothing was further
from my intention than to offend you. I have not a doubt
that shopkeepers are a most respectable class in their way — "

"Excuse me, dear Mrs. Redmain," said Mary again, "but
you quite mistake me. I am not in the least offended. I don't
care what you think of the class. There are a great many shop-

HOXOR. 267

keepers wlio are anything but respectable — as bad, indeed, as
any of the nobility/'

^^I was not thinking of morals,'' answered Hesper. "In
that, I dare say, all classes are pretty much alike. But, of
ocurse, there are differences."

"Perhaps one of them is, that, in our class, we make re-
spectability more a question of the individual than you do in

**That may be very true," returned Hesper. "80 long as
a man behaves himself, we ask no questions.''

"Will you let me tell you how llic tiling looks to me ?"
said Mary.

"Certainly. You do not suppose 1 care for the o})inions
of the people about me ! I, too, have my way of looking at

80 said IIesi)er ; yt'i it was just liie opinions of the ])C0i)le
about her that ruled all tliose of her actions that could be said
to be ruled at all. No one boasts of freedom except the willing
slave — the man so utterly a slave that he feels nothing irksome
in his fetters. Yet, perhaps, but for the opinions of those about
her, Ilesj)er would have been worse than she was.

"Am I right, then, in thinking," began Mary, "that peo-
ple of your class care only that a man should wear the look of
a gentleman, and carry himself like one ? — that, whether his
appearance be a reality or a nuisk, you do not care, so long as
no mask is removed in your com})any ? — that he may be the
lowest of men, but, so long as other people receive him, you will,
too, counting him good enough ?"

Hesper held her peace. 8he had by this time learned some
facts concerning the man she had married which, beside Mary's
question, were embarrassing.

"It is interesting," she said at length, "to know how the
different classes in a country regard each other." But she
spoke wearily : it was interesting in the abstract, not interest-
ing to her.

"The way to try a man," said Mary, "would be to turn
him the other way, as I saw the gentleman who is taking your
portrait do yesterday trying a square — change his position quite,


I mean, and mark liow far he continued to look a true man.
He would show something of his real self then, I think. Make
a nohleman a shopkeeper, for instance, and see what kind of a
shopkeeper he made. If he showed himself just as honorable
when a shopkeeper as he had seemed when a nobleman, there
would be good reason for counting him an honorable man."

" What odd fancies you have, Mary ! " said Hesper, yawning.

^'I know my father would have been as honorable as a no-
bleman as he was when a shopkeeper," persisted Mary.

*^ That I can well believe — he was your father," said Hesper,
kindly, meaning what she said, too, so far as her poor under-
standing of the honorable reached.

^^ Would you mind telling me," asked Mary, ** how you would
define the difference between a nobleman and a shopkeeper ? "

Hesper thought a little. The question to her was a stupid
one. She had never had interest enough in humanity to care
a straw what any shopkeeper ever thought or felt. Such peo-
ple inhabited a region so far below her as to be practically out
of her sight. They were not of her kind. It had never oc-
curred to her that life must look to them much as it looked to
her ; that, like Shylock, they had feelings, and would bleed if
cut with a knife. But, although she was not interested, she
peered about sleepily for an answer. Her thoughts, in a lazy
fashion, tumbled in her, like waves without wind — which, in-
deed, was all the sort of thinking she knew. At last, with the
decision of conscious superiority, and the judicial air afforded
by the precision of utterance belonging to her class — a pre-
cision so strangely conjoined with the lack of truth and logic
both — she said, in a tone that gave to the merest puerility the
consequence of a judgment between contending sages :

''The difference is, that the nobleman is born to ease and
dignity and affluence, and the— shopkeeper to buy and sell for
his living."

'' Many a nobleman," suggested Mary, "■ buys and sells with-
out the necessity of making a living."

''That is the difference," said Hesper.

"Then the nobleman buys and sells to make money, and
the shopkeeper to make a living ? "

HOyOR. 269

" Yes," granted H^sper, lazily.

'' Which is the nobler end — to live, or to make money ? "

But tliis question was too far beyond llespcr. She did
not even choose to hear it.

'^ And,'^ she said, resuniinji her definition instead, ''the
nobleman deals with great things, the shopkeeper with small.*'

**When things are finally settled," said Mary —

''Gracious, Mary!" cried Ilesper, ''what do you mean?
Are not tilings settled for good this many a century? lam
afraid 1 have been harboring an awful radical ! — a — what do
they call it ? — a communist I ''

She would have turned the whole matter out of doors, for

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