George MacDonald.

Mary Marston. A novel online

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so concentrated and active that she was capable of commu-
nicating life — the highest of human endowments.

One evening, as Letty was telling her how the dressmaker



np stairs had been for some time unwell, and Mary was feeling
reproachful that she had not told her before, that she might
have seen what she could do for lier, they became aware, it
seemed gradually, of one softest, sweetest, faintest music-tone
coming from somewhere — but not seeming sutliciently of this
world to disclose whence. Mary went to the window : there
was nothing capable of music within sight. It came again ;
and intermittingly came and came. For some time they would
liear nothing at all, and then again the most delicate of tones
would creep into their ears, bringing with it more, it seemed
to Mary in the surprise of its sweetness, than she could have
believed single tone capable of carrying. Once or twice a few
consecutive sounds made a division strangely sweet ; and then
again, for a time, nothing would reach them but a note hero
and a note there of wliat slie was fain tu imagine a wonderful
melody. The visitation lasted for about an hour, then ceased.
Letty went to bed, and all niglit long dreamed she heard the
angels calling her. She wuke weeping that her time was como
so early, while as yet she had tasted so little of the i)lea.sure of
life. Hut the truth was, she had as yet, poor child, got so lit-
tle of the (jood of life, that it was not at all time for her to go.

When her hour drew near, Tom condescended— unwilling-
ly, I am sorry to say, for he did not take the trouble to under-
stand her feelings — to leave word where he might be found if
he should be wanted. Even this assuagement of her fears
Letty had to plead for ; Clary's being so much with her was to
him reason, and he made it excuse, for absence ; he had begun
to dread Mary. Nor, when at length he was sent for, Avas he
in any great haste ; all was well over ere he arrived. But he
was a little touched when, drawing his face down to hers, she
feebly whispered, *' He's as like to you, Tom, as ever small thing
was to great!" She saw the slight emotion, and fell asleep

It was night when she woke. Mary was sitting by her.

''0 ^lary ! " she cried, ''the angels have been calling me
again. Did you hear them ? *'

•"Xo," answered Mary, a little coldly, for, if ever she was
inclined to be hard, it Avas toward self-sentiment. '' Why do


you tliink the angels sliould call you ? Do you suj^pose them
yery desirous of your company ? "

^"^Tliey do call people," returned Letty, almost crying;
"and I don't know why they mightn't call me. I'm not such
a yery wicked person ! "

Mary's heart smote her ; she was refusing Letty the time
God was giying her ! She could not wake her up, and, while
God y/as waking her, she was impatient !

"I heard the call, too, Letty," she said ; "but it was not
the angels. It was the same instrument we heard the other
night. Who can there be in the house to play like that ? It
was clearer this time. I thought I could listen to it a whole

"Why didn't you wake me ?" said Letty.

" Because the more you sleep the better. And the doctor
says I mustn't let you talk. I will get you something, and
then you must go to sleep again."

Tom did not ajopear any more that night ; and, if they had
wanted him now, they would not haye known where to lind
him. He was about nothing very bad — only suj^ping with
some friends — such friends as he did not eyen care to tell that
he had a son.

He was ashamed of being in London at this time of the
year, and, but that he had not money enough to go anywhere
except to his mother's, he would haye gone, and left Letty to
shift for herself.

With his child he was pleased, and would not seldom take
him for a few moments ; but, when he cried, he was cross with
him, and showed himself the unreasonable baby of the two.

The angels did not want Letty just yet, and she slowly re-

For Mary it was a peaceful time. She was able to read a
good deal, and, although there were no books in Mr. Eedmain's
house, she generally succeeded in getting such as she wanted.
She was able also to practice as much as she pleased, for now
the grand piano was entirely at her seryice, and she took the
opportunity of haying a lesson eyery day.





OxE evening, soon after the baby's arrival, as Mary sat with
him in her lap, the sweet tones they had heard twice before
came creeping into her cars so gently that she seemed to be
aware of their i)resence only after they had been for some time
coming and going : she laid the baby down, and, stealing from
the room, listened on the landing. Certainly the sounds wore
born in the house, but whether they came from below or above
she could not tell. Going first down the stair, and then up,
she soon satisfied herself that they came from above, and there-
upon ventured a little farther up the stair.

She had already been to see the dressmaker, whom she had
come to know through the making of Hesper's twilight robe
of cloud, liad found her far from well, and had done what she
could for iR-r. liut siie was in no want, and of more than
ordinary independence — a Yorkshire woman, about forty years
of age, delicate, but of great patience and courage ; a i)lain,
fair, freckled woman, with a belief in religion rather than in
(iod. Very strict, therefore, in her observances, she thought a
great deal more of the Sabbath than of man, a great deal more
of tlie Bible than of the truth, and ten times more of her creed
than of the will of (iod ; and, had she heard any one utter such
words as I have just written, would have said he was an atheist.
She Avas a worthy creature, notwithstanding, only very un-
pleasant if one happened to step on the toes of a pet ignorance,
^lary soon discovered that there was no jjrofit in talking with
her on the subjects she loved most : plainly she knew little
about them, except at second hand — that is, through the forms
of other minds than her own. Such people seem intended for
the special furtherance of the saints in patience ; being utterly
unassailable by reason, they are especially trying to those who
desire to stand on brotherly terms with all men, and so are the
more sensitive to the rudeness that always goes with moral
stupidity ; intellectual stupidity may coexist with the loveliness
of an angel. It is one of the blessed hopes of the world to


come, that there will be none such in it. But why so many
words ? I say to myself, Will one of such as I mean recognize
his portrait in my sketch ? Many such have I met in my
young days, and in my old days I find they swarm still. I
could wish that all such had to earn their own bread like Ann
Byrom : had she been rich, she would have been unbearable.
Women like her, when they are well to do, walk with a manly
stride, make the tails of their dresses go like the screw of a
steamer behind them, and are not unfrequently Scotch.

As Mary went up, the music ceased ; but, hoping Miss By-
rom would be able to enlighten her concerning its source, she
continued her ascent, and knocked at her door. A voice,
rather wooden, yet not without character, invited her to enter.

Ann sat near the window, for, although it was quite dusk,
a little use might yet be made of the lingering ghost of the day-
light. Almost all Mary could see of her was the reflection
from the round eyes of a pair of horn spectacles.

*^How do you do, Miss Byrom ?" she said.

*^Not at all well," answered Ann, almost in a toue of of-

" Is there nothing I can do for you ?" asked Mar}^

*^^We are to owe no man anything but love, the apostle
tells us."

'* You must owe a good deal of that, then," said Mary, one
part vexed, and two parts amused, *'for you don't seem to pay
much of it."

She was just beginning to be sorry for what she had said
when she was startled by a sound, very like a little laugh,
which seemed to come from behind her. She turned quickly,
but, before she could see anything through the darkness, the
softest of violin-tones thrilled the air close beside her, and then
she saw, seated on the corner of Ann's bed, the figure of a man
— young or old, she could not tell. How could he have kept
so still ! His bow was wandering slowly about over the strings
of his violin ; but presently, having overcome, as it seemed,
with the help of his instrument, his inclination to laugh, he
ceased, and all was still.

" I came," said Mary, turning again to Ann, "hoping you


might be able to tell me where the sweet sounds came from
which we have heard now two or three times ; but I had no
idea there was any one in the room besides yourself. — They
come at intervals a gi'cat deal too long," she added, turning
toward the figure in the darkness.

'* I am afraid my ear is out sometimes," said the man, mis-
taking her remark. ** I think it comes of the anvil."

The voice was manly, though gentle, and gave an impres-
sion of utter directness and simplicity. It was Mary's turn,
liowever, not to understand, and she made no answer.

" I am very sorry," the musician went on, '' if I annoyed
you, miss."

Mary was hastening to assure him that tlic fact was (juite
the other way, when Ann prevented her.

*'I told you so!" she said; ^' you make uii idui of your
foolish jjlaythintr, but nthor ]iro]i]e take it onlv for the nui-
sance it is."

** Indeed, yuii luxrr uir.- nvwv niistakt'n,'' .-aid Marv.
" Both Mrs. Ilelmer and myself are charmed witli the little
tliat reaches us. It is, indeed, seldom one hears tones of such

The player responded witli a sigli of pleasure.

'*Xow there you are, miss," cried Ann, '^a-llattering of his
folly till not a word I say will be of the smallest use ! "

" If your words are not wise," said Mary, with suppressed
indignation, **thc less he heeds them the better."

" It ain't wise, to my judgment, miss, to make a man think
himself something when he is nothing. It's quite enough a
man should deceive his own self, without another t(j come and
help him."

*' To speak the truth is not to deceive," replied Marv. *' I
have some knowledge of music, and I say only what is true."

*' What good can it be spending his time scraping horse-
hair athort catgut ? "

*^ They must fancy some good in it up in heaven," said
Mary, **or they wouldn't have so much of it there."

"There ain't no fiddles in heaven,'' said Ann, with indig-
nation ; '' they've nothing there but harps and trumpets."


Mary turned to the man, wlio had not said a word.

^^ Would you mind coming down with me," she said, *'and
playing a little, very softly, to my friend ? She has a little
baby, and is not strong. It would do her good. "

*^ She'd better read her Bible," said Ann, who, finding she
could no longer see, was lighting a candle.

*^She does read her Bible," returned Mary; ^^and a little
music would, perhaps, help her to read it to better purpose."

'^ There, Ann ! " cried the player.

The woman replied with a scornful grunt.

^^Two fools don't make a wise man, for all the franchise,"
she said.

But Mary had once more turned toward the musician, and
in the light of the candle was met by a pair of black eyes,
keen yet soft, looking out from under an overhanging ridge
of forehead. The rest of the face was in 'shadow, but she
could see by tlie whiteness, through a beard that clouded all the
lower part of it, that he was smiling to himself : Mary had
said what pleased him, and his eyes sought her face, and seemed
to rest on it with a kind of trust, and a look as if he was ready
to do whatever she might ask of him.

^^You will come ?" said Mary.

"Yes, miss, with all my heart," he replied, and flashed a
full smile that rested upon Ann, and seemed to say he knew
her not so hard as she looked.

Eising, he tucked his violin under his arm, and showed
himself ready to follow.

"Good night, Miss Byrom," said Mary.

" Good night, miss," returned Ann, grimly. " I'm sorry
for you both, miss. But, until the spirit is poured out from on
high, it's nothing but a stumbling in the dark."

This last utterance was a reflection rather than a remark.

Mary made no reply. She did not care to have the last
word ; nor did she fancy her cause lost when she had not at
hand the answer that befitted folly. She ran down the stair,
and at the bottom stood waiting her new acquaintance, who
descended more slowly, careful not to make a noise.

She could now see, by the gaslight that burned on the


landing, a little more of what the man was. lie was power-
fully built, rather over middle height, and about the age of
tliirty. His complexion was dark, and the hand that held the
bow looked gi'imy. lie bore himself well, but a little stiffly,
with a care over his violin like that of a man carrying a baby,
lie was decidedly handsome, in a rugged way — mouth and chin
but hinted through a thick beard of darkest brown.

''Come this way," said Mary, leading him into Letty's
parlor. " I will tell my friend you are come. Her room, you
see, opens olf this, and she will licar you deliglitfully. Pray,
take a seat.''

** Thank you, miss,'' said the man, but remained standing.

"I have caught the bird, Letty,'' said Mary, loud enough
for liini to hear ; ''and he is come to sing a little to you — if you
feel strong enough fur it."

'' It will do me good," said Letty. " IIov/ kind of him I ''

The man, having lieard, was already tuning liis violin when
Mary came from the bedroom, and sat down on the sofa. Tlie
instant he had got it to his mind, he turned, and, going to the
farthest corner t)f the room, closed his eyes tight, and began
to play.

But how shall I describe that playing ? how convey an idea
of it, however remote ? I fear it is nothing less than presump-
tion in me, so great is my ignorance, to attem})t the thing.
But would it be right, for dread of bringing shame upon me
through failure, to leave my readers without any notion of it
at all ? On the other hand, I shall, at least, have the merit of
daring to fail — a merit of which I could well be ambitious.

If, then, my reader will imagine some music-loving sylph
attemi)ting to guide the wind among the strings of an vEolian
harp, every now and then for a moment succeeding, and then
again for a while the wind having its own way, he will gain, I
think, something like a dream-notion of the man's playing.
Mary tried hard to get hold of some clew to the combinations
and sequences, but the motive of them she could not find.
Whatever their source, there was, either in the composition
itself or in his mode of playing, not a little of the inartistic,
that is, the lawless. Yet every now and then would come a


passage of exquisite melody, owing much, however, no doubt,
to the marvelous delicacy of the player's tones, and the utterly
tender expression with which he produced them. But ever as
she thought to get some insight into the movement of the man's
mind, still would she be swept away on the storm of some
change, seeming of mood incongruous.

At length came a little pause. He wiped his forehead with
a blue cotton handkerchief, and seemed ready to begin again.
Mary interrupted him with the question :

^^Will you please tell me whose music you have been play-
ing ?"

He opened his eyes, which had remained closed even while
he stood motionless, and, with a smile sweeter than any she
had ever seen on such a strong face, answered :

"It's nobody's, miss."

" Do you mean you have been extemporizing all this time ? "

" I don't know exactly what that means."

" You must have learned it from notes ? "

"I couldn't read them if I had any to read," he answered.

" Then what an ear and what a memory you must have !
How often have you heard it ? "

"Just as often as I've played it, and no oftener. Not be-
ing able to read, and seldom hearing any music I care for, I'm
forced to be content with what runs out at my fingers when I
shut my eyes. It all comes of shutting my eyes. I couldn't
play a thing but for shutting my eyes. It's a wonderful
deal that comes of shutting your eyes ! Did you never try it,
miss ? "

Mary was so astonished both by what he said and the sim-
plicity with which he said it, having clearly no notion that
he was uttering anything strange, that she was silent, and the
man, after a moment's retuning, began again to play. Then
did Mary gather all her listening powers, and brace her atten-
tion to the tightest — but at first with no better success. And,
indeed, that was not the way to understand. It seems to me, at
least, in my great ignorance, that one can not understand mu-
sic unless he is humble toward it, and consents, if need be, not
to understand. When one is quiescent, submissive, opens the


ears of the mind, and demands of them nothing more tlian the
hearing — when the rising waters of question retire to their bed,
and individuality is still, then the dews and rains of music,
finding the way clear for them, soak and sink through the
sands of the mind, down, far down, below the thinking-place,
down to the region of music, which is the hidden workshop of
the soul, the place where lies ready the divine material for man
to go making withal.

Weary at last with vain effort, she ceased to endeavor, and
in a little while was herself being molded by the music un-
consciously received to the further understanding of it. It
wrought in her mind pictures, not thoughts. It is possible,
liowever, my later knowledge may affect my description of
what Mary tlien saw with her mind's eye.

First there was a crowd in slow, then rai)id movement.
Arose cries and entreaties. Came hurried motions, disruption,
and running feet. A i)ausc followed. Then woke a lively
melody, changing to the prayer of some soul too grateful to
find words. Next came a bar or two of what seemed calm,
lovely speech, then a few slowlv delivered chords, and all was

She came to herself, and then first knew that, like sleep,
the music had seized her unawares, and hhe had \)vvn under-
standing, or at least enjoying, without knowing it. The man
was approaching her from his dark corner. His face was shin-
ing, but j)lainly he did not intend more music, for his violin
was already under his arm. He made her a little awkward
bow — not much more than a nod, and turned to the door. He
had it half open, and not yet could Mary speak. For Lettv,
she was fast asleep.

From the top of the stair came the voice of Ann, scream-
ing :

"Here's your hat, Joe. I knew you'd be going when you
l)layed that. You'd have forgotten it, / know ! "

Mary heard the hat come tumbling down the stair.

** Thank you, Ann,'' returned Joe. *^Yes, Fm going.
The ladies don't care much for my music. Nobody does but
myself. But, then, it's good for me."



The last two sentences were spoken in soliloquy, but Mary
heard them, for he stood with the handle of the door in his
hand. He closed it, picked up his hat, and went softly down
the stair.

The spell was broken, and Mary darted to the door. But,
just as she opened it, the outer door closed behind the strange
musician, and she had not even learned his name.



As soon as Letty had strength enough to attend to her baby
without help, Mary, to the surprise of her mistress, and the
destruction of her theory concerning her stay in London, pre-
sented herself at Durnmelling, found that she was more wel-
come than looked for, and the same hour resumed her duties
about Hesper.

It was with curiously mingled feelings that she gazed from
her window on the chimneys of Thornwick. How much had
come to her since first, in the summer-scat at the end of the
yew-hedge, Mr. Wardour opened to her the door of literature !
It was now autumn, and the woods, to get young again, WTre
dying their yearly death. For the moment she felt as if she,
too, had begun to grow old. Ministration had tired her a little
— but, oh ! how different its weariness from that which came
of labor amid obstruction and insult ! Her heart beat a little
slower, perhaps, but she could now be sad without losing a jot
of hope. Nay, rather, the least approach of sadness would
begin at once to wake her hope. She regretted nothing that
had come, nothing that had gone. She believed more and
more that not anything worth having is ever lost ; that even
the most evanescent shades of feeling are safe for those who
grow after their true nature, toward that for which they were
made — in other and higher words, after the will of God.


But she did for a moment ta^te some bitterness in her cup,
vrhen, one day, on the footpatli of Testbridgc, near the phice
where, that memorable Sunday, she met Mr. Wardour, she met
him again, and, looking at her, and i)lainly recognizing her, he
passed without salutation. Like a sudden wave the blood rose
to her face, and then sank to the deeps of her heart ; and from
somewhere came the conviction that one day the destiny of
Godfrey Wardour would be in her hands : he had done more
for her than any but her father ; and, when that day was come,
he should not lind her fail him !

She was then on her way to the shop. She did not at all
relish entering it, but, as she had a large money-interest in the
business, she ought at least, she said to herself, to pay the place
a visit. "When she went in, Turnbull did not at first recognize
her, and, taking her for a customer, blossomed into repulsive
suavity. 'J'he change that came over his countenance, when he
knew her, was a shadow of such mingled and conflicting shades
tliat she felt there was something ])eeuliar in it which she must
attempt to analyze. It remained hardly a moment to encounter
(juestion, but was almost immediately replaced with a polite-
ness evidently false. Tlien. first, she began to be aware of dis-
trusting tlie man.

Asking a few questions about the business, to wliich he gave
answers most satisfactory, she kept casting her eyes about the
shoj), unable to account for the impression the look of it made
upon her. Either her eyes had formed for themselves another
scale, and could no more rightly judge between past and pres-
ent, or the aspect of the place was ditlerent, and not so satis-
factory. "Was there less in it ? she asked herself — or was it
only not so well kept as when she left it ? She could not tell.
Neither could she understand the profound but distant con-
sideration with which Mr, Turnbull endeavored to behave to
her, treating her like a stranger to whom he must, against his
inclination, manifest all possible respect, while he did not invite
her even to call at the villa. She bought a j)air of gloves of the
young woman who seemed to occupy her place, i)aid for them,
and left the shop without speaking to any one else. All the
time, George was standing behind the opposite counter, staring


at her ; but, much to her relief, he showed no other sign of

Before she went to find Beenie, who was still at Testbridge,
in a cottage of her own, she felt she must think over these
things, and come, if possible, to some conclusion about them.
She left the town, therefore, and walked homeward.

What did it all mean ? She knew very well they must
look down on her ten times more than ever, because of the
menial position in which she had placed herself, sinking there-
by beyond all pretense to be regarded as their equal. But, if
that was what the man's behavior meant, why was he so
studiously — not so much polite as respectful ? That did not
use to be Mr. Turnbull's way where he looked down upon one.
And, then, what did the shadow preceding this behavior mean ?
Was there not in it something more than annoyance at the
sight of her ? It was with an effort he dismissed it ! She had
never seen that look upon him !

Then there was the impression the shop made on her ! Was
there anything in that ? Somehow it certainly seemed to have
a shabby look ! Was it possible anything was wrong or going
wrong with the concern ? Her father had always spoken with
great respect of Mr. Turnbull's business faculties, but she
knew he had never troubled himself to look into the books or
know how they stood with the bank. She knew also that Mr.
Turnbull was greedy after money, and that his wife was am-
bitious, and hated the business. But, if he wanted to be out
of it, would he not naturally keep it up to the best, at least in

Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldMary Marston. A novel → online text (page 25 of 40)