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George MacDonald.

Mary Marston. A novel online

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however innocently, step into his place ! There was no reason-
ing in her resolve : it was allied to that spiritual insight which,
in simple natures, and in proportion to their simplicity, ap-
proaches or amounts to prophecy. As the presence of death
will sometimes change even an ordinary man to a prophet, in
times of sore need the childlike nature may well receive a
vision sufficing to direct the doubtful stej?. Letty felt that the
taking of that money would be the opening of a gulf to divide
her and Tom for ever.

The moment Godfrey was out of the room she cast herself
on the floor, and sobbed as if her heart must break. But her
sobs were tearless. And, oh, agony of agonies ! unsought
came the conviction, and she could not send it away — to this
had sunk her lofty idea of her Tom ! — that he would have had
her take the money ! More than once or twice, in the ill-hu-
mors that followed a forced hilarity, he had forgotten his claims
to being a gentleman so far as — not exactly to reproach her
with having brought him to povcrt}^ — but to remind her that,
if she was poor, she was no poorer than she had been when de-
pendent on the charity of a distant relation !

Tlie baby began to cry. She rose and took him from tlie
sofa wliere Godfrey had laid him when he was getting out tiie
pocket-book, held him fast to her bosom, as if by laying their
two aching lives together they might both be healed, and, rock-
ing him to and fro, said to herself, for the first time, that licr
trouble was greater than she could bear. '' baby ! baby !
baby ! " she cried, and her tears streamed on the little wan face.
But, as she sat with him in her arms, the blessed sleep came,
and the storm sank to a calm.



RELIEF. 305

CHAPTER XXXIX.

RELIEF.

It was dark, utterly dark, wlicn she woke. For a minute
she could not remember where slie wa.s. The candle had burned
out : it must be late. The baby was on her lap — still, very
still. One faint gleam of satisfaction crossed her ^* during
dark '' at the thouglit that he slept so peacefully, hidden from
the ^rloom wliich, somehow, appeared to be all the same gloom
outside and inside of her. In that gloom slie Siit alone.

Suddenly a prayer was in her heart. It was moving there
as of itself. It hud come there by no calling of it thither, by
Jio conscious will of hers. ^* God," she cried, *' 1 am desolate !
— Is there no help for me?'* And therewith she knew that
she had prayed, and knew that never in her life hud she prayed
before.

She started to her fei-t m an nirony : a horril)li' frar lunl
taki'u possession of her. With one arm Aw hrld the child fa-t
to her bosom, with the other hand searched in vain to linil a
match. And still, as she searched, the baby seemed io grow
heavier u})on her arm, and the fear siekened more and more at
her heart.

At last she had light I and the face of the child canu' out
of the darkness. IJut the child himself had gone away into it.
The Unspeakable had come while she slept — had come and
gone, and taken her child with him. What was left of him
was no more good to kiss than the last doll of her childhood !

When Tom came home, there was his wife on the lloor as
if dead, and a little way from her the child, dead indeed, and
cold with death, lie lifted Letty and carried her to the bed,
amazed to lind how light she was : it was long since he had
had her thus in his arms. Then he laid her dead baby by her
side, and ran to rouse the doctor. lie came, and jironounced
the child quite dead — from lack of nutrition, he said. To see
Tom, no one could have helped contrasting his dress and ap-
pearance with the look and surroundings of his wife ; but no



306 MARY MABSTOK

one would have been ready to lay blame on him ; and, as for
himself, he was not in the least awake to the fact of his guilt.

The doctor gave the landlady, who had responded at once
to Tom's call, full directions for the care of the bereaved moth-
er ; Tom handed her the little money he had in his pocket, and
she promised to do her best. And she did it ; for she was one
of those, not a few, who, knowing nothing of religion toward
God, are yet full of religion toward their fellows, and with the
Son of Man that goes a long way. As soon as it was light, Tom
went to see about the burying of his baby.

He betook himself first to the editor of '^ The Firefly," but
had to wait a long time for his arrival at the office. He told
him his baby was dead, and he wanted money. It was forth-
coming at once ; for literary men, like all other artists, are in
general as ready to help each other as the very poor themselves.
There is less generosity, I think, among business-men than in
any other class. The more honor to the exceptions !

^^But," said the editor, who had noted the dry, burning
palm, and saw the glazed, fiery eye of Tom, '^my dear fellow,
you ought to be in bed yourself. It's no use taking on about
the poor little kid : you couldn't help it. Go home to your
wife, and tell her she's got you to nurse ; and, if she's in any
fix, tell her to come to me."

Tom went home, but did not give his wife the message.
She lay all but insensible, never asked for anything, or refused
anything that was offered her, never said a word about her
baby, or about Tom, or seemed to be more than when she lay
in her mother's lap. Her baby was buried, and she knew no-
thing of it. Not until nine days were over did she begin to
revive.

For the first few days, Tom, moved with undefined remorse,
tried to take a part in nursing her. Slie took things from him,
as she did from the landlady, without heed or recognition.
Just once, opening suddenly her eyes wide upon him, she ut-
tered a feeble wail of ^' Bciby ! " and, turning her head, did not
look at him again. Then, first, Tom's conscience gave him a
sharp sting.

He was far from well. The careless and in many respects



RELIEF. 807

dissolute life he had been leading had more than begun to tell
on a constitution by no means strong, but he had never become
aware of his weakness nor had ever felt really ill until now.

But that sting, althougli the first sharp one, was not his first
warning of a waking conscience. Ever since he took his place
at his wife's bedside, he had been fighting off the conviction
tliat he was a brute. He would not, he could not believe it.
Wliat I Tom Ilolmer, the line, indubitable follow I such as lie
had always known himself I — he to cower before his own con-
sciousness as a man unworthy, and greatly to Ix^ dcsi)ised !
The chaos was come again I And, verily, chaos was there, but
not by any means newly come. And, moreover, when chaos
begins to be conscious of itself, then is tlio dawn of an ordered
world at hand. Nay, the creation of it is already begun, and
the ])angs of the waking conscience arc tlic proj)liccy of the new
birth.

With that pitiful cry of his wife after her lost eliild, (iisl)O-
lief in himself got within the lines of his defense ; he eoiild
do no more, and began to loathe that conscious self which had
hitherto been liis pride.

Whatever the effect of illness may be iii)on liie temper of
some, it is most certainly an ally of the conscience. All pains,
indeed, and all sorrows, all demons, yea, and all sins themselves
under the suffering care of the highest minister, are but the
ministers of truth and righteousness. 1 never came io know
the condition of such as seemed exceptionally alllicted but I
seemed to see reason for their aflliction, either in exceptional
faultiness of character or the greatness of the good it was doing
them.

But conscience reacts on the body — for sickness until it is
obeyed, for health thereafter. The moment conscience spoke
thus plainly to Tom, the little that was left of his physical en-
durance gave way, his illness got the upper hand, and he took
to his bed — all he could have for bed, that is — namely, the sofa
in the sitting-room, widened out with chairs, and a mattress
over all. There he lay, and their landlady had enough to do.
Not that either of her patients was exacting ; they were both
too ill and miserable for that. It is the self-pitiful, self-cod-



308 MARY MARSTOK

clling invalid that is exacting. Such, I suspect, require some-
thing sharper still.

Tom groaned and tossed, and cursed himself, and soon
passed into delirium. Straightway his visions, animate with
shame and confusion of soul, were more distressing than even
his ready tongue could have told. Dead babies and ghastly
women pursued him everywhere. His fever increased. The
cries of terror and dismay that he uttered reached the ears of
his wife, and were the first thing that roused her from her
lethargy. She rose from her bed, and, just able to crawl, began
to do what she could for him. If she could but get near
enough to him, the husband would yet be dearer than any
child. She had him carried to the bed, and thereafter took on
the sofa what rest there was for her. To and fro between
bed and sofa she crept, let the landlady say what she might,
gave him all the food he could bo got to take, cooled his burn-
ing hands and head, and cried over him because she could not
take him on her lap like the baby that was gone. Once or
twice, in a quieter interval, he looked at her pitifully, and
seemed about to speak ; but the back-surging fever carried far
av/ay the word of love for which she listened so eagerly. The
doctor came daily, but Tom grew worse, and Letty could not
get well.



CHAPTER XL.

GODFREY A^B SEPIA.

When" the Redmains went to Cornwall, Sepia was left at
Durnmelling, in the expectation of joining them in London
within a fortnight at latest. The illness of Mr. Redmain, hov/-
ever, caused her stay to be prolonged, and she was worn out with
ennui. The self she was so careful over was not by any means
good company : not seldom during her life had she found her-
self capable of almost anything to get rid of it, short of suicide
or repentance. This autumn, at Durnmelling, she would even,
occasionally, with that object, when the weather was fine, go



GODFREY AXD SEPIA. 309

for u solitary walk — a thing, I need not say, she hated in itself,
thougli now it was her forlorn hope, in the poor possibility of
falling in with some distraction. But the hope was not alto-
gether a vague one ; for was there not a man somewhere under-
neath those chimneys she saw over tlie roof of the laundry ?
She had never spoken to him, but Ilesper and she liad often
talked about iiim, and often watched him ride — never man
more to her mind. In lier wanderings she had come upon the
l)reach in the ha-ha, and, clambering uj), found herself on tlie
forbidden ground of a neiglibor whom the family did not visit.
To no such folly would Sepia be a victim.

The analysis "of such a nature as hers, witli lier story to set
it forth, would require a book t(j itself, and I must iia})i)ily con-
tent myself with but a fact here and there in her history.

In one of her rambles on his ground slic had her desire,
and met (iodfrey Wardour. He lifted his hat, and she stopped
and addressed him l)y way of apology.

'* 1 am afraid you think me very rude, Mr. \V;ir



Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldMary Marston. A novel → online text (page 27 of 40)