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George MacDonald.

Mary Marston. A novel online

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frequently couched where she could hear every motion in Mr,
Redmain's room. Haunted by fear, she in turn haunted her
fear. She could not keep from staring down the throat of the
pit. She was a slave of the morrow, the undefined, awful
morrow, ever about to bring forth no one knows what. That
morrow could she but forestall !

If any should think that anxiety and watching must have
so wrought on Sepia that she came to be no longer accountable
for her actions, I will not oppose the kind conclusion. For
my own part, until I shall have seen a man absolutely one
vnth the source of his being, I do not believe I shall ever have
seen a man absolutely sane. What many would point to as
plainest proofs of sanity, I should regard as surest signs of the
contrary.

A sign of my own insanity is it ?

Your insanity may be worse than mine, for you are aware
of none, and I with mine do battle. I believe all insanity has
moral as well as physical roots. But enough of this. There
are questions we can aiford to leave.

Sepia had got very thin during these trying days. Her
great eyes were larger yet, and filled with a troubled anxiety.
Not paleness, for of that her complexion was incapable, but a
dull ])allor possessed her cheek. If one had met her as she
roamed the house that night, he might well have taken her for
some naughty ancestor, whose troubled conscience, not yet
able to shake oif the madness of some evil deed, made her wan-
der still about the place where she had committed it.

She believed in no supreme power who cares that right
should be done in his worlds. Here, it may be, some of my
unbelieving acquaintances, foreseeing a lurid something on the



THE NEXT NIGHT. 437

horizon of my story, will be indignant that the capacity for
crime should be thus associated with the denial of a Live
Good. But it remains a mere fact that it is easier for a man
to commit a crime when he does not fear a willed retribution.
Tell me there is no merit in being prevented by fear ; I an-
swer, the talk is not of merit. As the world is, that is, as the
race of men at present is, it is just as well that the man who
has no merit, and never dreamed of any, should yet be a little
hindered from cutting his neighbor's throat at his evil plea-
sure. — Xo ; I do not mean hindered by a lie — I mean hindered
by tlie poorest apprehension of the grandest truth.

Of those who do not believe, some liave never liad a noblo
picture of God jiresented to them ; but whether their })hau-
tasni IS of a mean God because they refuse him, or they refuse
him because their phantasm of him is mean, who can tell ?
Anyhow, mean notions must come of meanness, and, unchari-
table as it may appear, I can not but think there is a moral
root to all clio.-iii unhilief. Hut let (!od himself judge his
own.

With Scjiia, what was />'■>•/ nu-ant what was best for ]>er,
and host for her meant most a/frr her lik-itiij.

She had in her time heard a good deal al)itiful over the irremediable ills of the race ; and, being what
she was, she was no worse necessarily for advocating that than
for advocating cremation, which she did — occiusionally, I must
confess, a little coarsely. But the notion of euthanasia might
well work for evil in a mind that had not a thought for the
ease any more than for the betterment of humanity, or indeed
for anything but its own consciousness of pleasure or comfort.
Opinions, like drugs, work differently on different constitu-
tions. Hence the man is foolish who goes scattering vague
notions regardless of the soil on which they may fall.

She was used to asking the question, AVIiat's the good ?
but always in respect of something she wanted out of her way.

''What's the good of an hour or two more if you're not



438 MARY MARSTOK

enjoying it ? " she said to herself again and again that Mon-
day. "^What's the good of living when life is pain — or fear
of death, from which no fear can save you ? " But the ques-
tion had no reference to her own life : she was judging for
another — and for another not for his sake, or from his point
of view, but for her own sake, and from where she stood.

All the day she wandered about the house, such thoughts
as these in her heart, and in her pocket a bottle of that con-
centrated Avhich Mr. Redmain was taking much diluted for
medicine. But she lioped not to liave to use it. If only Mr.
Redmain would yield the conflict, and depart without another
interview with the lawyer !

But if he would not, and two drops from the said bottle,
not taken by herself, but by another, would save her, all her
life to come, from endless anxiety and grinding care, from
weariness and disgust, and indeed from want ; nor that alone,
but save likewise that other from an hour, or two hours, or
perhaps a week, or possibly two weeks, or — who could tell ? —
it might be a month of pain and moaning and weariness, would
it not be well ? — must it not be more than well ?

She had not learned to fear temptation ; she feared poverty,
dependence, humiliation, labor, ennui, misery. The thought
of the life that must follow and wrap her round in the case of
the dreaded disclosure was unendurable ; the thought of the
suggested frustration was not so unendurable — was not abso-
lutely unendurable — was to be borne — might be permitted to
come — to return — was cogitated — now with imagined resist-
ance, now with reluctant and partial acceptance, now with
faint resolve, and now with determined resolution — now with
the beaded drops pouring from the forehead, and now witli a
cold, scornful smile of triumphant foil and success.

Was she so very exceptionally bad, however ? You who
hate your brother or your sister — you do not think yourself at
all bad ! But you are a murderer, and she was only a mur-
derer. You do not feel wicked ? How do you know she did ?
Besides, you hate, and she did not hate ; she only wanted to
take care of herself. Lady Macbeth did not hate Duncan ; she
only wanted to give her husband his crown. You only hate



THE XEXT XIGHT. 439

your brother ; you "would not, you say, do liim any liarm ; and
I believe you would not do him mere bodily harm ; but, were
things 'changed, so that hate-action became absolutely safe, I
should have no confidence what you might not come to do.
No one can tell what wreck a gust of passion upon a sea of hate
may work. There are men a man might well kill, if he were
anything less than ready to die for them. The difference be-
tween the man that hates and the man that kills may be no-
Avhere but in the courage. Tliese are (jreivsome thinkings : let
us leave them — but hating with them.

All the afternoon Sepia hovered about Mr. Kedmain^s door,
down u})on Mewks every moment he aj^ix^arcd. Her head
ached ; she could hardly breathe. Kest she could notji Once
when Mewks, coming from the room, told Ijit his master was
asleep, she crept in, and, softly approaching tlie head of tlio
bed, looked at him from behind, tlien stole out again.

** lie seems dying, Mewks," she saiil.

*' Oh, no, miss ! I've often seen him as bad. lie's better."

" Wlio's that whisjK'ring ?'' murmured the patient, angrily,
tliough half asleep.

Mewks went in, ami answered :

** Only me and Jemima, sir."

*MVhere's Miss Marston ? ''

" She's not come yet, sir."

** I want to go to sleep again. You must wake me the
moment she comes."

**Yes, sir."

Mewks went back to Sei>ia.

** Ilis voice is much altered,'' she said.

** He most always speaks like that now, miss, when he
wakes — very different from I used to know him ! He'd always
swear bad when he woke ; but ^liss Marston do seem t' 'ave
got a good deal of that out of him. Anyhow, this last two
days he's scarce swore enough to make it feel home-like."

" It's death has got it out of him," said Sepia. ''I don't
think he can last the night through. Fetch me at once if —
And don't let that Marston into the room again, whatever you
do."



4:40 MARY MAR8T0K

She spoke with the utmost emphasis, plainly clinching in-
structions previously given, then v\^ent slowly up the stair to
her own room. Surely he would die to-night, and she would
not be led into temptation ! She would then have but to get
a hold of the paper ! What a hateful and unjust thing it was
that her life should be in the power of that man — a miserable
creature, himself hanging between life and death ! — that such
as he should be able to determine her fate, and say whether she
was to be comfortable or miserable all the rest of a life that was
to outlast his so many years I It was absurd to talk of a Provi-
dence ! She must be her own providence !

She stole again down the stair. Her cousin was in her own
room safe with a novel, and there was Mewks fast asleep in an
easy-chair in the study, with the doors of the dressing-room
and chamber ajar ! She crept into the sick-room. There was
the tumbler with the medicine ! and her fingers were on the
vial in her pocket. The dying man slept.

She drew near the table by the bed. He stirred as if about
to awake. Her limbs, her brain seemed to rebel against her
will. — But what folly it was ! the man was not for this world
a day longer ; Avhat could it matter whether he left it a few
hours earlier or later ? The drops on his brow rose from the
pit of his agony ; every breath was a torture ; it were mercy to
help him across the verge ; if to more life, he would owe her
thanks ; if to endless rest, he would never accuse her.

She took the vial from her pocket. A hand was on the
lock of the door ! She turned and fled through the dressing-
room and study, waking Mewks as she passed. He, hurrying
into the chamber, saw Mary already entered.

When Sepia learned who it was that had scared her, she felt
she could kill her with less compunction than Mr. Eedmain.
Slie hated her far worse.

^^You lyuist get the viper out of the house, Mev/ks," she
said. ^*It is all your fault she got into the room."

**I'm sure I'm willing enough," he answered, '^ — even if it
wasn't you as as't me, miss ! But what am I to do ? She's
that brazen, you wouldn' believe, miss ! It wouldn' be be-
comin' to tell you what I think that young woman fit to do."



THE NEXT NIGHT 441

" I don't doubt it," responded Sepia. " But surely," she
went on, '' the next time he has an attack, and he's certain to
liave one soon, you will be able to get her hustled out I"

'• Xo, miss — least of all just then. She'll make that a pre-
tense for not going a yard from the bed — as if me that's been
about him so many years didn't know what ought to be done
witli him in his paroxes of pain better than the likes of her !
Of all things I do loathe a rou', miss — and the talk of it after ;
and sure I am that without a row we don't get her out of that
room. The only way is to be quiet, and seem to trust her, and
watch for tlie chance of her going out — then shut her out, and
keep her out."

**I believe you aie- nglit," returned Sepia, almost wiih a
hope that no such opportunity might arrive, but at the same
time growing more determined to take advanta;rc of it if it
should.

Hence i>artly it came that Mary mot with no interruption
to her watching and mini.^lering. Mewks V^^i coming and
going — watching her, and waiting his opportunity. Mr. Ked-
main scarcely lieeded liim, only once and again saying in sudden
anger, " "What can that idiot be about ? He might know by
tliis time I'm not likely to want him so long as iinu are in the
room I "

And >aid Mary to lier.-elt : '* Who knows wiiat good the mere
presence of one who trusts may be to him, even if he shouldn't
seem to take much of wliat she says ! Perhaps he may think of
some of it after he is dead — who knows ?" Patiently she sat
and waited, full of help that would have flowed in a torrent,
but which she felt only trickle from her heart like a stream
that is lost on the face of the rock down which it flows.

All at once she bethought herself, and looked at her watch :
Josej)h had been waiting for her more than an hour, and would
not. she knew% if he stojiped all night, go away without her !
And for her, she could not forsake the poor man her presence
seemed to comfort ! He was now lying very still : she would
slip out and send Joseph aw\ay, and be back before the patient
or any one else should miss her !

She went softlv from the room, and glided down the stairs,



442 MAEY MARSTOK

and ont of the house, seeing no one — but not unseen : hardly
was she from the room, when the door of it was closed and
locked behind her, and hardly from the house, when the house-
door also was closed and locked behind her. But she heard
nothing, and ran, Yfithout the least foreboding of mishap, to
the corner where Joseph was to meet her.

There he was, waiting as patiently as if the hour had not
yet come.

^^I can't leave him, Joseph. My heart won't let me," she
said. "I can not go back before the morning. I will look in
upon you as I pass."

So saying, and without giving him time to answer, she
bade him good night, and ran back to the house, hoping to get
ill as before without being seen. But to her dismay she found
the door already fast, and concluded the hour had arrived
when the house was shut up for the night. She rang the bell,
but there was no answer — for there was Mewks himself stand-
ing close behind^ the door, grinning like his master an evil grin.
As she knocked and rang in vain, the fact flashed upon her
that she was intentionally excluded. She turned away, over-
whelmed with a momentary despair. What was she to do ?
There stood Joseph ! She ran back to him, and told him they
had shut her out.

^*It makes me miserable," she went on, *'to think of the
poor man calling me, and me nowhere to answer. The worst
of it is, I seem the only person he has any faith in, and v/hat I
have been telling him about the father of us all, whose love
never changes, will seem only the idler tale, wlieii he finds I am
gone, and nowhere to be found — as they're sure to tell him.
There's no saying what lies they mayn't tell him about my go-
ing ! Eather than go, I will sit on the door-step all night, just
to be able to tell him in the morning that I never went home."

''Why have they done it, do you think ?" asked Joseph.

''I dare hardly allow myself to conjecture," answered Mary.
''None of them like me but Jemima — not even Mrs. Eedmain
now, I-am afraid ; for you see I never got any of the good done
her I wanted, and, till something of that was done, she could
not know how I felt toward her. I shouldn't a bit wonder if



THE XEXT XIGHT. 443

they fancy I have a design on his money — as if anybody fit to
call herself a woman would condescend to such a thing ! But
when a woman would marry for money, she may well think as
badly of anotlier woman.'*

**This is a serious alTair," said Joseph. " To have a dying
man believe you false to him would be dreadful I We must
find some way in. Let us go to the kitchen-door.''

" If Jemima happened to be near, then, perhaps I *' rejoined
Mary ; " but if they want to keep me out, you may be sure
Mewks has taken care of one door as well as anotlier. lie knows
Tm not so easy to keep out."

" If you did get in/' said Joseph, speaking in a wliisper as
they went, '* would you feel quite safe after this ?''

''I have no fear. I dare say they would lock nw up some-
where if tliey could, before I got to Mr. Kedmain's room : once
in, they would not dare touch me."

**I shall not go out of hearing so long as you are in that
house," said Joscpli, with decision. ** Not until 1 have you out
again do I leave the premises. If anything should make you
feel uncomfortable, you cry out, miss, and I'll make a noise at the
door that everybody at Thornwick over there shall hear me."

'* It is a large house, Joseph : one might call in many a part
of it, and never be heard out of doors. I don't think you could
hear me from Mr. Kedmain's room,'' said Mary, with a little
laugh, for she was amused a.s well as pleased at the j)rotection
Joseph would give her ; ** it is up two flights, and he chose it
himself for the sake of being quiet when he was ill."

As she spoke, they reached the door they sought — the most
likely of all to be still ojien : it was fa-^t and dark as if it had
not been unbolted for years. One or two more entrances they
tried, but with no better Success.

''Come this way," whispered Joseph. ^' I know a place
where we shall at least be out of their sight, and where we can
plan at our leisure."

He led her to the back entrance to the old hall. Alas ! even
that was closed.

''This /.s- disappointing," he said ; "for, if we were only in
there, I think something might be done."



444 MAEY MARSTON.

*^I believe I know a way," said Mary, and led liini to a
place near, used for a wood-shed.

At the top of a great heap of sticks and fagots was an open-
ing in the wall, that had once been a window, or perhaps a
door.

^^That, I know, is the wall of the tower,*' she said ; ^^and
there can be no difficulty in getting through there. Once in,
it will be easy to reach the hall — that is, if the door of the
tower is not locked."

In an instant Joseph was at the top of the heap, and
through the opening, hanging on, and feeling vfith his feet.
He found footing at no great distance, and presently Mary
was beside him. They descended softly, and found the door
into the hall wide open.

" Can you tell me what window is that," whispered Joseph,
^' just above the top of the wall ? "

^^Icannot," answered Mary. ''1 never could go about
this house as I did about Mr. Kedmain's ; my lady always
looked so fierce if she saw me trying to understand the place.
But why do you ask ? "

^^ You see the flickering of a fire ? Could it be Mr. Eed-
main's room ? "

" I can not tell. I do not think it. That has no window
in this direction, so far as I know. But I could not be cer-
tam."

^^ Think how the stairs turn as you go up, and how the
passages go to the room. Think in what direction you look
every corner you turn. Then you will know better whether or
not it might be."

Mary was silent, and thought. In her mind she followed
every turn she had to take from the moment she entered the
house till she got to the door of Mr. Redmain's room, and
then thought how the windows lay when slie entered it. Her
conclusion was that one side of the room must be against the
hall, but she could remember no window in it.

*^But," she added, *'I never was in that room when I was
here before, and, the twice I have now been in it, I was too
much occupied to take much notice of things about me. Two



THE NEXT XIGffT. 445

windows, I know, look down into a quiet little corner of the
courtyard, where there is an old pump covered with ivv. I
remember no other."

"Is there any way of getting on to the top of that wall
from this tower ?" asked Joseph.

"Certainly there is. People often walk round the top of
those walls. They are more than thick enough for that."

"Are you able to do it ?"

" Yes, quite. I have been round them more than once.
But I don't like the idea of looking in at a window."

" Xo more do 1, miss ; but you must remember, if it is his
room, it will only be your eyes going where the whole of you
has a right to be ; and, if it should not be that room, they liave
driven you to it : such a necessity will justify it."

"You must be right," answered Mary, and, turnini:, KhI
the way uj) the stair of the tower, and through a gap in tlio
wall out upon the top of tlie great walls.

It was a sultry night. A storm was brooding l)etwoon
heaven and earth. The moon was not yet up, and it was so
dark that they had to feel their way along the wall, glad of the
])rotection of a fence of thick ivy on the outer side. Looking
down into the court on the one hand, and across the hall to
the lawn on the other, they siiw no living thing in the light
from various windows, and there was little danger of being
discovered. In the gable was only the one window for which
they were making. Mary went first, as better knowing tho
])ath, also as having the better right to look in. Through the
window, as she went, she could see the flicker, but not the fire.
All at once came a great blaze. It lasted but a moment —
long enough, however, to let them see plainly into a small
closet, the door of which was partly open.

" That is the room, I do believe," whispered Mary. " There
is a closet, but I never was in it."

"If only the window be not bolted I " returned Joseph.

The same instant Mary heard the voice of Mr. Redmain
call in a tone of annoyance — " Mary ! Mary Marston ! I want
you. Who is that in the room ? — Damn you ! who are you ? "

" Let me pass you," said Joseph, and, making her hold to



4:46 - MARY MAESTOK

the ivy, here spread on to the gable, he got between Mary and
the window. The blaze was gone, and the fire was at its old
flicker. The window was not bolted. He lifted the sash. A
moment and he was in. The next, Mary was beside him.

Something, known to her only as an impulse, induced
Mary to go softly to the door of the closet, and peep into the
room. She saw Hesper, as she thought, standing — sidewise to
the closet — by a chest of drawers invisible from the bed. A
candle stood on the farther side of her. She held in one hand
the tumbler from which, repeatedly that evening, Mary had
given the patient his medicine : into this she was pouring,
with an appearance of care, something from a small dark
bottle.

With a sudden suspicion of foul play, Mary glided swiftly
into the room, and on to where she stood. It was Sepia ! She
started with a smothered shriek, turned white, and almost
dropped the bottle ; then, seeing who it was, recovered herself.
But sucli a look as she cast on Mary ! such a fire of hate as
throbbed out of those great black eyes ! Mary thought for a
moment she would dart at her. But she turned away, and
walked swiftly to the door. Joseph, however, i:)eeping in be-
hind Mary, had caught a glimpse of tlie bottle and tumbler,
also of Sepia's face. Seeing her now retiring with the bottle
in her hand, he sprang after her, and, thanks to the fact that
she had locked the door, was in time to snatch it from her.
She turned like a wild beast, and a terrible oath came hissing
as from a feline throat. When, however, she saw, not Mary,
but the unknown figure of a powerful man, she turned again to
the door and fled. Joseph shut and locked it, and went back
to the closet. Mary drew near the bed.

" Where have you been all this time ? " asked the patient,
querulously; *^and who was that went out of the room just
now ? What's all the hurry about ? "

Anxious he should be neither frightened nor annoyed, Mary
replied to the first part of his question only.

" I had to go and tell a friend, who was waiting for me,
that I shouldn't be home to-night. But here I am now, and I
will not leave j^ou again."



THE XEXT XIGHT. 447

*' IIow did the door come to be locked ? And who was that
went out of the room?"

While he was thus questioning, Joseph crept softly out of
the window ; and all the rest of the night he lav on the top of
the wall under it.

**It was >[iss Yolland/' answered Mary.

*' What business had she in my room ?"

**She shall not enter it again while I am hero."

" Don't let Mewks in cither," he rejoined. *• I heard the
door unlock and lock again : what did it mean ?"

" Wait till to-morrow. Perhaps we shall find out then."

He was silent a little.

**I mu.^t get out of this hnn-c. Mar;.." !u' siLdicd at
length.

'* When tlie doctor coniL.-, we .-hall .sec, ' .-aid Mary.

** What I is the doctor comin:: ? I am glad of iliat. W'lio
• lit for him ? "

'• 1 don't know ; 1 only hcanl iu- was coming."

** Jiut your lawyer, Mary — what'.s hi.s name ?— will Ik; here
first : we'll talk tlie thing over with him, and take his ndvico.
I feel better, and shall go to sleep again."

.Ml night long Mary sat by him and watched. Not a stop,
so far as slie knew, came near the door; certainly not a hand
was laid upon the lock. Mr. Ucdmain slept -onrfdly, and in
the morning was beyond a doubt bettor.

Hut Mary could not tliink of leaving him until Mr. iirett
came. At Mr. Hedmain's request she rang the bell. Mewks
made his appearance, with tlie face of a ghost. His ma.stcr told
liim to bring liis breakfast.

" And see, Mewks," he added, in a tone of gentleness that



Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldMary Marston. A novel → online text (page 38 of 40)