George MacDonald.

Mary Marston. A novel online

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lation — *' Much as I am myself !" thought Sepia, with a bitter
laugh that even in her own eyes she should be comi)arable to a
poor creature like Letty. The fact, however, remained that
Godfrey was a little altered toward her : she must have been
telling him something against lier — something she had heard
from that detestable little hypocrite who was turned away on
sus])icion of theft ! Yes — that was how Sepia talked to Jicrself
about Mary.

One morning, Letty, finding she had an hour's leisure, for
her aunt did not pursue her as of old time, wandered out to
the oak on the edge of the ha-ha, so memorable with the shad-
owy presence of her Tom. She had not been seated under it
many minutes before Godfrey caught sight of her from his
horse's back : knowing his mother was gone to Testbridge, he


yielded to an urgent longing, took liis horse to the stable, and
crossed the grass to where she sat.

Letty was thinking of Tom — what else was there of her
own to do ?— thinking like a child, looking up into the cloud-
flecked sky, and thinking Tom was somewhere there, though
she could not see him : she must be good and patient, that she
might go up to him, as he could not come down to her — if he
could, he would have come long ago ! All the enchantment of
the first days of her love had come back upon the young widow ;
all the ill that had crept in between had failed from out her
memory, as the false notes in music melt in the air that carries
the true ones across ravine and river, meadow and grove, to
the listening ear. Letty lived in a dream of her husband — in
heaven, " yet not from her" — such a dream of bliss and hope
as in itself went far to make up for all her sorrows.

She was sitting with her back toward the tree and her face
to Thornwick, and yet she did not see Godfrey till he was within
a few yards of her. She smiled, expecting his kind greeting,
but was startled to hear from behind her instead the voice of a
lady greeting him. She turned her head involuntarily : there
was tlie head of Sepia rising above the breach in the ha-ha, and
Godfrey had turned aside and run to give her his hand.

Now Letty knew Sepia by sight, from the evening she had
spent at the old hall ; more of her she knew nothing. From
the mind of Tom, in his illness, her baleful influence had van-
ished like an evil dream, and Mary had not thought it neces-
sary to let him know how falsely, contemptuously, and con-
temptibl}^ she had behaved toward him. Letty, therefore, had
no feeling toward Sepia but one of admiration for her grace
and beauty, which she could appreciate the more that they
were so different from her own.

*^ Thank you," said Sepia, holding fast by Godfrey's hand,
and coming up with a little pant. ^^ What a lovely day it is
for your haymaking ! Hoav can you afford the time to play
knight-errant to a distressed damsel ? "

*' The hay is nearly independent of my presence," replied
Godfrey. " Sun and wind have done their parts too well for my
being of much use."


" Take me with you to see how tliey are getting on. I am
as fond of hay as Bottom in his translation."

She had learned Godfrey's love of literature, and knew that
one quotation may stand for much knowledge.

*' I will, with pleasure," said Godfrey, pcrha})s a little con-
soled in the midst of his disappointment ; and they walked
away, neither taking notice of Letty.

^' I did not know," she said to herself, **'that the two houses
had come together at last ! What a handsome couple they
make ! "

Wliat jkis-cmI between them is scarcely worthy of record.
It is enough to say that Sepia found her companion distrait,
and he felt her a little invasive. In a short while they came
back together, and Sepia saw I^tty under the great bough of
the Durnmelling oak. Godfrey handed her down the rent,
careful liiniself not to invade Durninelling witli a single foot.
She ran homo, and up to a certain window with her opera-
glass. But the l)ranche3 and foliage of the huge oak would
have concealed pairs and pairs of lovers.

Godfrey turned toward I^tty. She had not stirred.

" Wiiat a beautiful creature Miss Yolland is!" she said,
looking up with a smile of welcome, and a calmness that j)rc-
vented the slightest suspicion of a flattering jealousy.

*' T was coming to yo/^" returned (Jodfrey. *' I n^ver saw
lior till her head came up over the ha-ha. — Yes, she is beautiful
— at least, she has good eyes."

**They are splendid! What a wife she would make for
you, Cousin (Jodfrey ! I should like to see such a two."

Letty warf beyond the faintest suggestion of cofjuetry. Her
words drove a sting to the heart of Godfrey. He turned pale.
But not a word would he have spoken then, had not Letty in
her innocence gone on to torture him. She sprang from the

*'Are you ill. Cousin Godfrey ? " she cried in alarm, and
with that sweet tremor of the voice that shows the heart is
near. '^ You are quite white ! — Oh, dear ! I've said something
I oughtn't to have said ! What can it be ? Do forgive me,
Cousin Godfrey."


In her cliildlike anxiety she would have thrown her arms
round his neck, but her hands only reached his shoulders. He
drew back : such was the nature of the man that every sting
tasted of offense. But he mastered himself, and in his turn,
alarmed at the idea of having possibly hurt her, caught her
hands in his. As they stood regarding each other with troubled
eyes, the embankment of his prudence gave way, an.d the
stored passion broke out.

"You don't mean you would like to see me married, Let-
ty ? " he groaned.

"Yes, indeed, I do. Cousin Godfrey! You would make
such a lovely husband ! "

" Ah ! I thought as much ! I knew you never cared for
me, Letty ! "

He dropped her hands, and turned half aside, like a figure
warped with fire.

" I care for you more than anybody in the world— except,
perhaps, Mary," said Letty : truthfulness was a part of her.

"And I care for you more than all the world ! — more than
very being — it is worthless without you. Letty ! your eyes
haunt me night and day ! I love you with my whole

"How kind of you, Cousin Godfrey!" faltered Letty,
trembling, and not knowing what she said. She was very
frightened, but hardly knew why, for the idea of Godfrey in
love with her was all but inconceivable. Nevertheless, its ap-
proach was terrible. Like a fascinated bird she could not take
her eyes off his face. Her knees began to fail her ; it was all
she could do to stand. But Godfrey was full of himself, and
had not the most shadowy suspicion of how she felt. He took
her emotion for a favorable sign, and stupidly went on :

" Letty, I can't help it ! I know I oughtn't to speak to yon
like this — so soon, but I can't keep quiet any longer. I love
you more than the universe and its Maker. A thousand times
rather would I cease to live, than live without you to love me.
I have loved you for years and years — longer than I know. I
was loving you with heart and soul and brain and eyes when
you went away and left me."


''Cousin Godfrey I " shrieked Letty, '-don't you know I
belong to Tom ? '' "

And she dropped like one lifeless on the grass at his feet.

Godfrey felt as if suddenly damned ; and his hell was death,
lie stood gazing on the white face. The world, heaven, God,
and nature were dead, and that was the soul of it all, dead
before him ! But such death is never born of love. This
agony was but the fog of disappointed self-love ; and out of it
suddenly rose what seemed a new power to live, but one from
a lower world : it was all a wretched dream, out of which he
was no more to issue, in which he must go on for ever, dream-
ing, yet acting as one wide awake ! Mechanically he stoojied
and lifted the death-defying lover in his arms, and carried lier
to the house. lie felt no thrill as he held the treasure to liis
heart. It was the merest material contact. lie bore her to
tlie room where liis mother sat, laid her on the sofa, said he
had found her under the oak-tree — and went to liis study,
away in the roof. On a chair in the middle of the lloor lie
sat, like a man bereft of all. Nothing came between him and
suicide but an infinite scorn. A slow rage devoured his heart.
Here he was, a man who knew his own worth, his faithfulness,
liis unchangeableness, cast over the wall of the universe, into
tlie waste phices, among tlie broken shards of ruin I If tlicre
was a God — and the rage in his heart declared his beirtg — why
(lid he make him ? To make him foi* such a misery was pure
injustice, was willful cruelty I Henceforward he would live
above what God or woman could do to him ! He rose and went
to the hay-field, whence he did not return till after midnight.

He did not sleep, but he came to a resolution. In the
morning he told his mother that he wanted a change ; now
that the hay was safe, he would have a run, he hardly knew
where — possibly on the Continent ; she must not be uneasy if
she did not hear from him for a week or two ; perhaps he
would have a look at the jiyramids. The old lady was filled
with dismay ; but scarcely had she begun to expostulate when
she saw in his eyes that something was seriously amiss, and
held her peace — she had had to learn that with both father
and son.


Godfrey went, and courted distraction. Ten years before,
he would haye brooded : that he would not do now : the thing
was not worth it ! His pride was strong as eyer, and both
helped him to get oyer his suffering, and preyented him from
gaining the good of it. He intrenched himself in his pride.
No one should say he had not had his will ! He was a strong
man, and was going to proye it to himself afresh !

Thus thought Godfrey ; but he is in reality a weak man who
must have recourse to pride to carry him through. Only, if a
man has not loye enough to make a hero of him, what is he to

He was away a month, and came back in seeming health and
spirits. But it was no small relief to him to find on his arrival
that Letty was no longer at Thornwick.

She had gone through a sore time. To have made Godfrey
unhappy, made her miserable ; but how was she to help it ?
She belonged to Tom ! Not once did she entertain the thought
of ceasing to be Tom's. She did not even say to herself, what
would Tom do if she forgot and forsook him — and for what he
could not help ! for haying left her because death took him
away ! But what was she to do ? She must not remain where
she was. No more must she tell his mother why she went.

She wrote to Mary, and told her she could not stay much
longer. They were very kind, she said, but she must be gone
before Godfrey came back.

Mary suspected the truth. The fact that Letty did not give
her any reason was almost enough. The supposition also ren-
dered intelligible the strange mixture of misery and hardness
in Godfrey's behavior at the time of Letty's old mishap. She
answered, begging her to keej^ her mind easy about the future,
and her friend informed of whatever concerned her.

This much from Mary was enough to set Letty at compara-
tive ease . She began to recover strength, and was able to write
a letter to Godfrey, to leave where he would find it, in his

It was a lovely letter — the utterance of asimple, childlike
spirit — ^with much in it, too, I confess, that was but prettily
childish. She poured out on Godfrey the affection of a woman-


child. She told him what a reverence and love he had been to
her always ; told him, too, that it would change her love into
fear, perhaps something worse, if he tried to make her forget
Tom. She told him he was much too grand for her to dare
love him in that way, but she could look up to him like an
angel — only he must not come between her and Tom. Nothing
could be plainer, simpler, honester, or stronger, than the way
the little woman wrote her mind to the great man. Had he
been worthy of her, he might even yet, with her help, have got
above his passion in a gi*and way, and been a great man indeed.
But, as so many do, he only sat upon liimsclf, kept himself
down, and sank far below his passion.

When he went to his study the day after his return, he saw
the letter. His heart leaped like a wild thing in a trap at sight
of the ill-shaped, childish writing ; but — will my lady reader
believe it ? — tlie first thougiit that shot through it was — ** She
shall liiid it too late ! I am not one to be left and taken at
will I" When he read it, however, it was with a curling lip
of scorn at the childishness of the creature to whom he had of-
fered the heart of Godfrey Wardour. Instead of admiring tlie
lovely devotion of the girl-widow to her boy-husband, he scorned
himself for having dreamed of a creature who could not only
love a fool like Tom Helmer, but go on loving bim after he was
dead, and that even when (lodfn'V Wardour had condescended
to let her know he loved her. It was thus the devil befooled
him. Perhaps the worst devil a man can be ])ossessed withal,
is himself. In mere madness, the man is beside himself ; but
in this case he is inside himself ; the j)residiug, indwelling, in-
spiring spirit of him is himself, and that is the hardest of all
to cast out. (lodfrey rose from the reading of that letter rurr/i,
as he called it. But it was a^cure that left the wound open as
a door to the entrance of evil things. He tore the letter into a
thousand pieces, and threw them into the empty grate — not
even showed it the respect of burning it with fire.

Mary had got her affairs settled, and was again in the old
place, the hallowed temple of so many holy memories. I do
not forget it was a shop I call a tem])le. In that shop God had
been worshiped with holiest worship — that is, obedience — and


would be again. Neither do I forget that the devil had been
worshiped there too — in what temple is he not ? He has fallen
like lightning from heaven, but has not yet been cast out of
the earth. In that shop, however, he would be worshiped no
more for a season.

At once she wrote to Letty, saying the room which had
been hers was at her service as soon as she pleased to occupy it :
she would take her father's.

Letty breathed a deep breath of redemption, and made haste
to accept the offer. But to let Mrs. Wardour know her resolve
was a severe strain on her courage.

I will not give the conversation that followed her announce-
ment that she was going to visit Mary Marston. Her aunt met
it with scorn and indignation. Ingratitude, laziness, love of
low company, all the old words of offense she threw afresh in
her face. But Letty could not help being pleased to find that
her aunt's storm no longer swamped her boat. When she be-
gan, however, to abuse Mary, calling her a low creature, who
actually gave up an independent position to put herself at the
beck and call of a fine lady, Letty grew angry.

'^I must not sit and hear you call Mary names, aunt," she
said. '^ When you cast me out, she stood by me. You do not
understand her. She is the only friend I ever had — except

"You dare, jovl thankless hussy, to say such a thing in the
house where you've been clothed and fed and sheltered for so
many years ! You're the child of your father with a ven-
geance ! Get out of my sight ! "

" Aunt — " said Letty, rising.

" No aunt of yours ! " interrupted the wrathful woman.

" Mrs. Wardour," said Letty, with dignity, " you have been
my benefactor, but hardly my friend : Mary has taught me
the difference. I owe you more than you will ever give me the
chance of repaying you. But what friendship could have stood
for an hour the hard words you have been in the way of giving
me, as far back as I can remember ! Hard words take all the
sweetness from shelter. Mary is the only Christian / have
ever known. "


** So we are all pagans, except your low-lived lady's-maid I
Upon my word I "

" She makes me feel, often, often," said Lett}-, bursting
into tears, *' as if I were with Jesus himself — as if he must be
in the room somewhere."

So saying, she left her, and went to put up her things.
Mrs. Wardour locked the door of the room where she sat, and
refused to see or speak to her again. Letty went away, and
walked to Tcstbridge.

'' Godfrey will do something to make her understand," she
said to herself, weeping as she walked.

Whether Godfrey ever did, I can not tell.



The same day on wliich Tiiriibull opened his new shop, a
man was seen on a hidder j)ainting out the sign above tlie old
one. But the i)aint took time to dry.

'IMie same day, also, Mary returned to Testbridge, and, go-
ing in by tlie kitchen-door, went up to her father's room, of
wliich and of her own she had kept the keys — to the indigna-
tion of Turnbull, who declared he did not know liow to get on
without them for storage. But, for all his bluster, he Wiis
afraid of Mary, and did not dare touch anything she had left.

That night she spent alone in the house. But slie could
not sleep. She got up and went down to the sliop. It was a
bright, moonlit night, and all the house, even where the moon
could not enter, was full of glimmer and gleam, except the
shop. There she lighted a candle, sat down on a pile of goods,
and gave herself up to memories of the past. Back and back
went her thoughts as far as she could send them. God was
everywhere in all the story ; and the clearer she saw him tliere
the surer she was that she would find him as she went on. She
was neither sad nor fearful.


The dead hours of the night came, that valley of the shad-
ow of death where faith seems to grow weary and sleej?, and
all the things of the shadow wake up and come out and say,
" Here we are, and there is nothing but us and our kind in the
uniyerse ! " They woke up and came out upon Mary now, but
she fought them off. Either there is mighty, triumphant life
at the root and apex of all things, or life is not — and whence,
then, the power of dreaming horrors ? It is life alone — life
imperfect — that can fear ; death can not fear. Even the terror
that walketh by night is a proof that I live, and that it shall
not prevail against me. And to Mary, besides her heavenly
Father, her William Marston seemed near all the time. Where-
ever she turned she saw the signs of him, and she pleased her-
self to think that perhaps he was there to welcome her. But
it Avould not have made her the least sad to know for certain
that he was far off, and would never come near her again in
this world. She knew that, spite of time and space, she was
and must be near him so long as she loved and did the truth.
She knew there is no bond so strong, none so close, none so
lasting as the truth. In God alone, who is the truth, can
creatures meet.

The place was left in sad confusion and dirt, and she did
not a little that night to restore order at least. Buc at length
she was tired, and went up to her room.

On the first landing tliere was a window to i\\c, street. She
stopped and looked out, candle in hand, but drew back with a
start : on the 02:)posite side of the way stood a man, looking up,
she thought, at the house ! She hastened to her room, and to
bed. If God was not watching, no waking was of use ; and if
God was watching, she might sleep in peace. She did sleep,
and woke refreshed.

Her first care in the morning was to write to Letty — with
the result I have set down. The next thing she did was to go
and ask Beenie to give her some breakfast. The old woman
was delighted to sec her, and ready to lock her door at once
and go back to her old quarters. They returned together,
while Testbridge was yet but half awake.

Many things had to be done before the shop could be


opened. Beenic went after charwomen, and soon a great
bustle of cleaning arose. But the door was kept shut, and
the front windows.

In the afternoon Letty came fresh from misery into more
than counterbalancing joy. She took but time to put off her
bonnet and shawl, and was presently at work helping Mary,
cheerful as hope and a good conscience could make lier.

Mary was in no hurry to open the shop. Tlu're was ** stock
to be taken,'' many things had to be rearranged, and not a
few things to be added, before she could begin with comfort ;
and she must see to it all herself, for she was determined to
engage no assistant until she could give her orders without

She was soon satisfied that she could not do better than
make a ])roposal to Ix'tty which she had for some time contem-
])laU'il — namely, that she should take up her permanent abode
with her, and iiclp her in the shop. IxHty was cluirmed, nor
ever thouglit of the annoyance it would be to her aunt. Mary
had thought of that, but saw that, for I^tty to allow ilif i>ivju-
dices of her aunt to influence her, would be to order her life
not by the law of that (lod wliose Son wa.s a workingman,
but after the wliini and folly of an ill-educatod old woman.
A new sju'ing of life sci'mcd to bubble up in Ijciiy the moment
Mary mentioned the matter; and in serving she soon proved
herself one after Mary's own heart. Ix'tty 's day was henceforth
without a care, and her rest was sweet to her. Many cus-
tomers were even more pleased with her than with Mary, l^e-
fore long, Mary, besides her salary, gave her a small share in
the business.

Mrs. Wardour carried her custom to the Turnbulls.

"When the j)aint was dry which oi)literated the old sign,
l)eople saw the new one begin with an J/., and the sign-writer
went on until there stood in full, Mary Marston. Mr. Brett
hinted he would rather have seen it without the Christian
name ; but Mary insisted she would do and be nothing she
would not hold just that name to ; and on the sign her own
name, neither more nor less, should stand. She would have
liked, she said, to make it William and Mary Marston ; for


the business was to go on exactly as her father had taught her ;
the spirit of her father should never be out of the place ; and
if she failed, of which she had no fear, she would fail trying
to carry out his ideas — ^but people were too dull to understand,
and she therefore set the sign so in her heart only.

Her old friends soon began to come about her again, and
it was not many weeks before she saw fit to go to London to
add to her stock.

The evening of her return, as she and Letty sat over a late
tea, a silence fell, during which Letty had a brooding fit.

"I wonder how Cousin Godfrey is getting on ?" she said
at last, and smiled sadly.

^^How do you mean gettiiig on?^' asked Mary.

'^1 was wondering whether Miss Yolland and he — "

Mary started from her seat, white as the table-cloth.

'' Letty ! " she said, in a voice of utter dismay, ^* you don't
mean that Avoman is — is making friends with Mm ? "

^'1 saw them together more than once, and they seemed —
well, on very good terms."

^^ Then it is all over with him!" cried Mary, in despair.
" Letty ! what is to be done ? Why didn't you tell me
before ? He'll be madly in love with her by this time ! They
always are."

^^But Where's the harm, Mary? She's a very handsome
lady, and of a good family."

^^ We're all of good enough family," said Mary, a little pet-
ulantly. ''But that Miss Yolland— Letty — that Miss Yolland
— she's a bad woman, Letty. "

'' I never heard you say such a hard ^voYd of anybody before,
Mary ! It frightens me to hear you."

''It's a true word of her, Letty."

"How can you be so sure ?"

Mary was silent. There was that about Letty that made
the maiden shrink from telling the married woman what she
knew. Besides, in so far as Tom had been concerned, she could
not bring herself, even without mentioning his name, to talk
of him to his wife : there was no evil to be prevented and no
good to be done by it. If Letty was ever to know those pas-


sages in his life, she must hear them first in high phices, and
from the lips of the repentant man himself I

"I can not tell you, Letty," she said. "You know the
two bonds of friendshij-) are the right of silence and the dutv
of speech. I dare say you have some things which, truly as I
know you love me, vou neither wish nor feel at liberty to tell

Letty thought of what had so lately passed between her and
licr cousin Godfrey, and felt almost guilty. She never thought
of one of the many things Tom had done or said that had cut

Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldMary Marston. A novel → online text (page 34 of 40)